OCEANSIDE — A recently proposed pilot program aimed at addressing homelessness stirred frustration among many residents who felt the program would punish homeless people rather than help them.
Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez proposed a “hybrid voucher” pilot program that would include an emergency shelter, intermediary housing and permanent housing at the March 10 City Council meeting.
According to a letter Rodriguez released on March 3, the emergency shelter component of the program would allow city code enforcement and police to enforce “anti-encampment laws and vagrancy laws.”
“We must not be naïve to the dangers and impacts caused by most illegal encampments to include organized crime, drug and sex trafficking and wildfire threats,” Rodriguez wrote in his letter.
He also states in his letter that the city needs to partner with the private sector to provide social services, mental health services, drug rehabilitation and job training in a drug-free environment that requires participants who can work or volunteer.
Rodriguez further explained the program at the council meeting. The program would last 180 days and be used to determine what type of shelter would best suit Oceanside along with reducing “street homelessness” before Oceanside commits to a permanent shelter.
Oceanside, the third-largest city in the county, does not have a permanent shelter for homeless people.
On March 8, the city released a notice of funding available for a homeless shelter and affordable housing development. City Manager Deanna Lorson told Council that staff is also currently developing a hotel/motel voucher program to help get people off the street.
Additionally, the city is considering using the former Ocean Shores High School building as a bridge shelter.
Rodriguez released the letter announcing his plans for the pilot program a few days after an article in the Los Angeles Times was published about a homeless encampment around South Oceanside Boulevard.
The article highlights a row of tents that lines the sidewalk kept clean by the people who live in them. Rodney McGough, a homeless man who lives in the area and who purchased the tents for other individuals to use, calls the concept Camp on Wheels.
The article quotes Mayor Esther Sanchez, who said she appreciates how McGough and the others living there have kept the area clean and that it “looks really good.”
Rodriguez took great issue with this statement according to his letter, stating the mayor is “out of touch with the reality of Oceanside’s homeless crisis.” He also took issue with McGough’s description of Camp on Wheels as a “trauma-informed safe center.”
“A tent is not a home, it is not a trauma-informed safe center, it is not therapeutic and it is not humane,” Rodriguez said.
Several residents defended Camp on Wheels during the council meeting.
“Please stop seeing the tents and see the people inside,” said Vanessa Graziano, founder of Oceanside Homeless Resource. “Rodney is trying to make a difference.”
Several people also suggested Rodriguez’s plan would only lead to arresting people rather than getting them the help they need.
According to Nicholas Webber said the program would fine people living on the street, which could hurt their ability to find housing in the future.
“This is simply finding a way to criminalize a problem,” Webber said.
Councilmember Kori Jensen, who backed Rodriguez’s plan, said the program wouldn’t criminalize homeless people.
“This program is not to arrest people but to help people,” Jensen said.
Council did not move forward with the pilot program, opting to stick with the course staff was already working on to address homelessness in the city.