ESCONDIDO — With a looming $1 million shortfall in operating funds, Haven House, the city’s only homeless shelter, is temporarily moving across the street to its sister recuperative care facility while its parent nonprofit searches for a long-term solution.
Interfaith Community Services held a community forum on Sept. 8 to inform the public of Haven House’s move to the Abraham and Lillian Turk Recuperative Care Center, which CEO Greg Anglea said would take place in the next few weeks.
Haven House is a 49-bed, low-barrier shelter located in Interfaith’s Betty and Melvin Cohn Center at 550 W. Washington Avenue. Although Interfaith has been sheltering homeless individuals for more than 40 years, the shelter only operated during the winter months until 2016 when it transitioned to a year-round, overnight-only shelter.
Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Haven House switched from overnight-only to 24/7 care, providing access beyond just a one-night stay for its inhabitants.
Prior to offering 24/7 access, Haven House’s annual operating budget was $600,000. The budget has jumped to approximately $1.1 million after the expansion. Last year, Interfaith received $400,000 in one-time COVID-19 relief funding from the city of Escondido for its Haven House expansion.
Interfaith has also received around $50,000 annually from the city’s Community Development Block Grant funds, which comes from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, to provide resources for housing, homelessness, prevention and services for low-income households.
This year is the first time in over a decade that the city did not provide CDBG funding to Interfaith for its homeless shelter.
Funds are cut
According to Anglea, city staff informed Interfaith the City Council’s homelessness subcommittee — comprised only of Mayor Dane White and Deputy Mayor Joe Garcia — that the nonprofit was not chosen this year for funding because only 60% of Haven House residents were from Escondido.
City Clerk Zack Beck said the ad-hoc subcommittee has held six internal meetings this year to gather data and plans to hold public meetings soon to gather community input.
Instead, that money went to The Alabaster Jar Project, an Escondido-based organization which offers transitional housing for human trafficking survivors.
Although neither the mayor, who has publicly stated he was once homeless and addicted to drugs, nor any of the other council members were present at the Sept. 8 forum, Anglea noted they only received a few days’ notice and couldn’t make it due to conflicting schedules. At the time, White was at the SANDAG meeting.
Without additional revenues from Covid relief and CDBG funds, as well as what Anglea called “an unwillingness to invest in low barrier shelters” by local governments and the community, Interfaith is missing nearly all the necessary funding to sustain Haven House in its current model.
A temporary solution
The Turk Center, which opened earlier this year, is a repurposed 77-room hotel offering 106 beds for homeless individuals who are recovering from hospital stays due to varying physical and mental illnesses. Interfaith originally ran the program out of its Hawthorne Veteran and Family Resource Center, which is set to become the home of the nonprofit organization’s new shelter for single women and families.
Currently, less than 40 beds are occupied in the new recuperative care center as Interfaith slowly builds the program. In the meantime, the extra empty space will host Haven House where more adequate staffing levels are available — at least for now.
“We anticipate being able to help more people through this change… but it’s not a forever solution,” Anglea said. “If we cannot identify a long-term solution that provides a higher level of care and dignified locations for that care, then we will not be able to provide continued general shelter.”
Anglea noted that the $1 million shortfall is the biggest shortfall the agency has experienced thus far. He also said he does not anticipate the Haven House move to affect the recuperative care center’s growth but does expect the center to eventually need the beds temporarily taken by Haven House.
Low-barrier vs. high-barrier shelters
The first in several community forums also served to educate the public about homelessness, including discussing misconceptions about homelessness and the importance of low-barrier shelter access.
The region continues to debate whether low-barrier or high-barrier shelters are the better option. Low-barrier shelters have limited or minimal requirements for entry. High-barrier shelters place limitations such as sobriety, curfews, church attendance, program participation and identification requirements, which can immediately disqualify many potential candidates.
While proponents of low-barrier shelters believe unhindered access is the most humane way of helping people struggling with homelessness by meeting people where they are, those who favor high-barrier shelters argue low-barrier shelters encourage bad behavior and residents need sobriety and stricter rules.
Interfaith’s Haven House is low-barrier, but the nonprofit also offers case management, substance-use treatment, morning meals, daily showers, vocational training and other basic needs.
Interfaith Chief Program Officer Filipa Rios said it is less challenging to work with people struggling with addiction and other issues once they’re sheltered.
“Whether it be to a shelter bed or recuperative care, we want to get someone inside so we can work with them,” Rios said. “It’s much easier to work with someone once they’re indoors.”
Interfaith also partners with several other North County cities to provide services, including its partnership with the Oceanside Homeless Outreach Team, and agencies like the San Diego Rescue Mission, which refers its shelter residents in need of medical detoxing services to the new Oceanside Navigation Center.
A regional lack of shelters
Anglea said there are currently only 99 low-barrier beds for approximately 2,000 homeless people in North County. Those numbers include La Posada de Guadalupe in Carlsbad, a 50-bed shelter for single men, and Haven House.
However, the number of beds may soon grow. Last year, the city of Carlsbad received a $2 million grant from the county to expand its shelter by 30 to 50 beds to serve women and families with children. Additionally, the cities of Encinitas and Vista are pooling resources for a master lease on a property that would operate 24 shelter beds.
The Oceanside Navigation Center, which officially opened within the last few weeks, provides another 50 shelter beds for the region. Although the navigation center refers to itself as low-barrier, it does require its residents to be sober, and Anglea said it’s not considered low-barrier by the nonprofit’s definition of the term.
Beyond those lower-barrier shelters, Operation HOPE-North County offers a 45-bed high-barrier shelter for single women and families.
Edit: An earlier version of this article stated The Alabaster Jar Project is based in Rancho Bernardo, just south of Escondido. Although the organization’s mailing address is in Rancho Bernardo, its transitional housing and resource center is located in Escondido.