VISTA — After a failed attempt to draw in an operator on a yet-to-be-determined site for a homeless shelter in Vista, the city is pivoting to look at a more permanent model to help unhoused individuals.
In early February, a request for proposal, or RFP, for the development and operation of a year-round, low-barrier shelter opened for eight weeks. But at the April 26 meeting, the Vista City Council had no proposals to consider.
Three local service organizations monitoring the RFP — Interfaith Community Services, Operation Hope North County and Vista Community Clinic — reported that the lack of an identifiable location and funding source weakened the appeal to bid for the project.
“Our current program is a high barrier,” said Cindy Taylor, board president of Operation HOPE. “We do have some dreams and plans to move into a low-barrier program, perhaps in the future.
“We have some identified land that we’re interested in,” she said, “Right now, we just didn’t have the bandwidth to properly apply for the RFP or to understand what long-term proper funding would look like”
After further discussion with providers and other government agencies that offer shelter services, it was determined that Vista was not suited to take the lead in the development and operations of a shelter.
“Staff recognized that the operation of a shelter our size is not compatible with local standards,” said Sylvia Solis Daniels, the city’s housing program manager. “Jurisdictions that are in the process of opening their own shelters have access to a larger funding pool to sustain these projects.
In comparison, the cities of Chula Vista and Oceanside models include a site location and sought a service provider only. Chula Vista is moving forward with 63 independent living spaces with a startup budget of $5 million on a city-owned parcel. Oceanside will rehabilitate a school district building and develop a 50-bed navigation center and shelter for about $4 million.
While the Vista’s housing funds may not be adequate for a shelter, Solis Daniels said those city monies could support a permanent supportive housing proposal.
The city would partner with a developer to create a funding plan that pulls from tax credits, affordable housing grants, county funds and vouchers. While the city does not have experience operating a shelter, it does have experience drawing in affordable developments.
Developments may not need city funds, however, those monies will positively reflect in tie-breaker scores for tax credits.
“That’s what you’re looking for when you’re talking to a developer,” Assistant City Manager Amanda Lee explained.
Now, city staff will work on a new RFP to bring before the council that will define city funding to assist in the permanent supportive housing project. The motion was passed unanimously.
“We’re saying, ‘This is more direction on where to go, this is more direction on the funding source. Help us, help our community,’” said Councilmember Joe Green.
Permanent supportive housing
Permanent supportive housing is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized intervention method that houses adults or children with a disability. These are standard living structures – like apartments – that people may live in for as long as they need or want.
This type of housing would serve the same population and provide long-term resources, and is a federally recognized solution to combat homelessness and create a healthy life for the individual. It combines long-term housing assistance with support services to address chronic homelessness.
San Diego County, Escondido and Oceanside have backed permanent supportive housing. Based on the latest We All Count Point-in-Time Count available, 547 permanent supportive housing rooms were available in the county — excluding the city of San Diego. Of those, 528 were occupied.
“There is a less than 1 percent vacancy rate,” Lee said.
According to the 2020 Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness, Vista saw 498 people placed in emergency shelters or transitional/permanent housing in the first nine months of 2019.
“As we see the expanded needs of people who are experiencing homelessness, we would just like to confirm that for us permanent supportive housing is a very important piece of the puzzle for people who have the opportunity to become independent long term,” Taylor said.
Of those 498 clients, there were 447 families, 40 singles and 11 unaccompanied minors. Forty people were considered chronically homeless.
About 85% of the homeless population in Vista would qualify for the permanent housing units.
“This is serving the population that we need to service,” Green said. “The population that is rejecting services, now, because it is temporary.”
However, Deputy Mayor John Franklin would like to see more evidence that city services are reaching more people, looking to the 59-unit Paseo Artist Village.
“[That project] was completely full prior to occupancy,” Franklin said. “I feel this will be a much similar situation where the demand is much greater than the supply.”
However, others on the council believe that a permanent supportive housing program is a key step to overcoming homelessness.
“Yes, it will serve fewer individuals, but I am not as concerned about that,” Councilmember Katie Melendez said. “I know that it can entirely eliminate recidivism for many individuals and it allows an opportunity for people to regain their autonomy.”
Councilmember Corinna Contreras and Melendez both urge that permanent supportive housing is the clear avenue forward.
Local organizations expressed an eagerness for future partnerships and continued conversations to address housing needs.
Safe parking program?
Earlier this year, the council also requested an exploration into a safe parking and safe camping program. While a camping program doesn’t fit with the needs of the city, the council motioned for staff to take the next steps for safe parking in Vista.
Staff will also explore an RFP for a safe parking program with a $250,000 allocation for the establishment of the site. Council passed this motion 4 to 1, with Mayor Judy Ritter voting no.
This request sparked parallel the shelter conversations with the council in late January. Then, Ritter expressed previous experiences in Vista reflect it may not be appropriate for the city.
“I understand they’ve made a lot of improvements to the way they run them and possibly there might be a way of doing it safely,” Ritter said. “But, I am going to reserve that until I hear where the location is and what the neighborhood in that area feels like. If they’re willing to accept it. I might be willing to accept it.”
There are two organizations in San Diego County that currently host safe parking programs, Dreams for Change and Jewish Family Services. Soon city outreach opportunities will be available to learn more about safe parking.