OCEANSIDE — A large homeless encampment along South Oceanside Boulevard has been vacated and cleaned after Oceanside Police swept the area on April 13, moving many of its residents into a nearby hotel as part of a new city voucher program.
The encampment first became well known throughout the region for being tidier than most homeless camps. Residents worked to keep their trash off the ground and kept their belongings out of view under storage tents, and everyone slept in tents lined up neatly along the side of the street. Many of the tents along with other items were donated from community members.
Rodney McGough, who founded the camp in February, sought to use it as a means to help his fellow homeless community work through the traumas in their lives that had either led to their current situation or exacerbated it.
McGough noticed the issues that exist among the homeless who stay in the area and wanted to make a change.
“We’re all messed up here in our ways, we’re all damaged,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a way to make it work.”
With the camp, he created what he calls a “trauma-informed safe center” to help stabilize people and allow them to come back from their senses.
“People cannot get jobs or even function correctly if they’re cycling through survival mode and coping mode,” McGough told The Coast News in early March. “What’s kept people out here is being told, ‘you can’t sleep here, oh you can’t sleep here either,’ which keeps them in survival mode, so they’re never stabilizing.”
The camp grew fast, creating a “public safety concern” and drew a number of complaints from local businesses according to city staff. Other camps have also occurred throughout the city as well.
Talks of a motel voucher program had been circulating for weeks throughout the camp but it wasn’t until the Oceanside City Council meeting on April 7 that made the program official, along with a ban on camping and storing belongings on public property.
The following morning, residents of the camp were given notices that the city would be cleaning up the camp in the following days.
Around 6 a.m. on April 13, a swath of police officers walked down the street along with the encampment, signaling it was time to clear up.
A command center area was also established near the site where staff and police set up a station to help individuals into the motel voucher program and refer them to drug counseling, mental health resources and other services if needed.
The voucher program aims to provide temporary emergency lodging for unsheltered homeless individuals in the city. Previously, the city operated a similar program with 15 rooms that served 69 homeless residents and helped about 70% of them get into permanent housing.
The new program will use up to 30 rooms at the Marty Valley Inn located in the Oceanside Industrial Park and near services like Brother Benno’s, which operates as a soup kitchen and provides a series of other resources for homeless and impoverished individuals.
The program will shelter those who need case management services but cannot be accommodated by the city’s Oceanside Bridge Apartments at this time.
Interim Neighborhood Services Director Megan Crooks told Council that one of the rooms would be used as an office for the program. The rest of the rooms could fit anywhere from one individual to a family of four depending on the size of the room.
Rodney McGough, founder of the encampment on South Oceanside Boulevard, was one of several individuals transported to a nearby motel as part of the city’s new motel voucher program for homeless people. Video by @samm1son @joeorephoto pic.twitter.com/IymQ8emP2L
— The Coast News Group (@coastnewsgroup) April 13, 2021
Many of the rooms will house two people if they are willing, according to staff at the scene of the camp cleanup.
While the program is expected to run for about 6 months, Crooks said the average stay of an individual will only be about 21 days before they are moved into permanent housing. Oceanside Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) will then refer other homeless individuals throughout the city to the program once spots open.
Crooks said the city would work with its other regional partners, including county services, to help individuals who may need longer stays.
“This is a temporary lodging versus the street to create a safe and secure environment where they can start focusing on other aspects of their lives that need to be taken control of so that they can move on and lead a sustainable life,” Crooks said.
Another few individuals pack up their stuff before going to the motel. The city will keep their items in storage for up to 90 days before discarding anything unclaimed. @coastnewsgroup pic.twitter.com/Qrkx5F3M4S
— Samantha Nelson (@samm1son) April 13, 2021
The city is working with the McAlister Institute to provide drug counseling and rehabilitation to individuals at the motel. The city is also working with the County of San Diego, Interfaith Community Services and other partners to provide other necessary services like mental health counseling and family reunification.
The program’s total cost is $632,630.
Crooks noted that the motel voucher program is not the only thing being done in the city to address homelessness.
“This is one approach to resolving homeless issues,” she said. “It’s not the final, and we need other things put in place as well.”
The city currently has a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) out for interested organizations to open a homeless shelter in Oceanside, something that the city currently lacks.
Because the city doesn’t have a shelter, the act of sleeping on public property cannot be banned as per a 2019 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of Martin v. City of Boise. The case however does not completely prohibit the city from regulating camping and storing property in public spaces, thus Council unanimously approved an amendment to city code making these acts illegal at the same April 7 meeting.
On the morning of the cleanup, many residents were nervous about getting a room in the program.
McGough said the process was confusing and expressed frustration over how things were done, claiming he saw homeless individuals who were not part of his camp receive vouchers during the cleanup. Though the program is open to any homeless individuals referred by HOT in the city, the services at the cleanup that day were mainly targeting the camp and its residents.
The cleanup and transportation of individuals from the camp to the motel lasted most of the day Tuesday. The Coast News observed several individuals called to pack up their things and hop in the HOT team van. Anything they couldn’t take with them to the motel would be stored by the city for up to 90 days, and anything unclaimed after that would be thrown away.
McGough, who was originally doubtful about getting a room that day, had his name called later that morning. He packed up what he could put away in his nearby storage unit and took a few other items with him to the motel.
“I get to go be with my community,” he said.
A total of 28 individuals were placed into the voucher program that day. Of those people, about 12 participated in a county-wide vulnerability survey used by the HOT team that helps connect them to other resources.
Three people were also referred to the Exodus Whole Person Wellness program and another three were connected with Cal Fresh, according to Terry Gorman Brown with the City Manager’s office.
“At the end of the day, there were nine individuals who remained,” Brown said via email. “It is anticipated that another block of rooms will be available within a week.”
Once those remaining people are helped, the camp area will undergo a final cleanup. Large rocks have already been placed in cleared parts of the camp to prevent other encampments from forming.