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Each of the four floors of the Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista include six two-person rooms and a living area with a kitchen, dining table and lounging areas for clients to utilize. Photo by Laura Place
Each of the four floors of the Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista include six two-person rooms and a living area with a kitchen, dining table and lounging areas for clients to utilize. Photo by Laura Place
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New homeless shelter opens to Vista, Encinitas residents

VISTA — San Diego County’s newest homeless shelter opened its doors in Vista on Monday to its first group of clients, giving them a safe, non-congregate place to stay for at least 30 days while they find permanent housing and other resources. 

Offering 48 beds in two apartment buildings formerly used as a sober living center, the Buena Creek Navigation Center along South Santa Fe Avenue is operated under a shared multi-city agreement, with 75% of beds set aside for Vista residents and 25% for those from Encinitas. 

On-site operations and case management are run by Retread Inc., a service provider running the nearby men’s recovery program at Green Oak Ranch.

Both cities have worked collaboratively over the past year to make the shelter a reality, facilitated by a $5 million allocation from Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) that covers three years of operation. 

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 1, two days before opening, city and state officials expressed excitement about the intercity collaboration.

“No city is going to be able to fight the issue of homelessness trying to do the work by themselves,” said Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz. “This notion that you can put up a wall and try to address the issue of homelessness by yourself is one that I think we need to resist. We need to work regionally and collaboratively.”

Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), second from left, cuts the ribbon for the Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista alongside leaders from Encinitas and Vista (from left: Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, Vista Mayor John Franklin, and Vista council members Katie Melendez and Corinna Contreras).
Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), second from left, cuts the ribbon for the Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista on March 1 alongside leaders from Encinitas and Vista (from left: Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, Vista Mayor John Franklin, and Vista council members Katie Melendez and Corinna Contreras). Photo by Laura Place

Upon their arrival on Monday, clients could shower, obtain fresh clothes, and move their belongings into their rooms, which are limited to two people. The center has 24 bedrooms split between the two buildings, each with two stories and six rooms per floor, which sets it apart from other congregate shelters in the region. 

As clients got settled, staff cooked burgers on the communal patio and brought in items clients might need, such as supplies for their pets, which are also welcome at the shelter.

Sonia and Matthew (not their real names), a couple living out of their car in Vista since August, were among the first to move in. The two became homeless after Matthew lost his job last year, and Sonia was unable to work full-time due to her rheumatoid arthritis.

They were living in their car at a local park-and-ride when a Vista outreach worker connected them to Exodus Recovery, leading them to Retread and Buena Creek last month. 

“It’s nice. It feels like a home. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Sonia, who opted with her partner not to share their names due to privacy concerns. “I’ve been on the waiting list for low-income housing with HUD (Housing and Urban Development) for years, and it’s pretty much a 10-year wait.”

Now that they have a roof over their heads, the two are focused on getting connected to permanent housing, social services, and new work. 

Clients of the Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista will be housed two to a room in a non-congregate model that allows for more privacy. Photo by Laura Place
The Buena Creek Navigation Center in Vista will house two clients in a room in a non-congregate model that allows for more privacy. Photo by Laura Place

“I’m here to try to help us and get out of this situation, and get back to normal life,” Matthew said. 

Staff anticipated moving eight people on Monday, with more gradually moving in over the coming two to three weeks. After the initial 30 days at the center, when clients will work with case managers to identify housing and other services, Retread can grant two-week extensions for as long as someone needs. 

While the center is intended to maintain a 75/25 split for Vista and Encinitas residents, staff said there is some wiggle room depending on the need and availability of beds. 

“We want to have flexibility. Retread is gonna be really good about tracking the bed allocation as closely as possible. We don’t want to turn anyone away,” said Vista Homeless Services Program Manager Jonathan Lung. 

Along with its non-congregate model, Buena Creek is also a low-barrier shelter, meaning that individuals are not required to be sober but are prohibited from having or using drugs on-site. 

Apart from the two buildings where clients live, the Buena Creek property encompasses a single-family home used for staff housing and a converted garage used as another communal space. The center has 16 staff members, including case managers, navigation coaches, and security personnel, eight living on-site. 

Andre Weese, a security coordinator with Retread Inc. at the Buena Creek Navigation Center, pictured in the center’s staff housing on Monday. Photo by Laura Place
Andre Weese, a security coordinator with Retread Inc. at the Buena Creek Navigation Center, pictured in the center’s staff housing on Monday. Photo by Laura Place

Several staff members are graduates of Green Oak Ranch’s recovery program, some previously homeless. 

Andre Weese, a security coordinator at Buena Creek who graduated from the Green Oak ranch program in November, remembers the struggle of finding shelter when he was homeless and struggling with addiction. He hopes he can help clients at Buena Creek not feel alone. 

“When I was out there, there was nowhere I could go. I couldn’t go to the shelter; it was too hard to get into. It was high barrier, and you had all these waiting lists … We recognize that it’s life or death out there,” Weese said. “People are gonna come to our navigation center and there’s gonna be somewhere who cares about them.” 

Vista Councilmember Katie Melendez said Buena Creek is prepared to provide clients with dignity and support.

“Together, we’re gonna wrap around them and make sure they have the resources that they need. This has been such a highly-anticipated grand opening, and I think it’s well worth the wait,” Melendez said. 

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