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Two buildings along South Santa Fe Avenue in Vista are planned to be used for a non-congregate shelter co-leased by the cities of Vista and Encinitas. Photo by Laura Place
Two buildings along South Santa Fe Avenue in Vista are planned to be used for a non-congregate shelter co-leased by the cities of Vista and Encinitas. Photo by Laura Place
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Vista adjusts shelter network model, advances joint shelter plans with Encinitas

VISTA — After historically providing $200,000 upfront to a North County homeless shelter network for prioritization of beds for Vista residents, the Vista City Council agreed this week to move forward on a “per-diem” model reimbursing shelters based on actual bed utilization. 

The changes adopted on Sept. 26 followed a contentious meeting earlier this month when city leaders discussed data from homeless outreach teams indicating that Vista residents referred to shelters were being turned away due to a lack of beds. 

Under the new agreement, Vista will reimburse $108 per bed used at Haven House in Escondido, $84.63 per bed at La Posada in Carlsbad, and $58.60 per bed at Operation Hope North County in Vista. Reimbursement amounts for the rotational shelter have not been determined.

Shelters in the network, known as the Alliance for Regional Solutions, will also be required to improve their data gathering and reporting. This includes a monthly utilization report of all referrals to shelters made by Vista’s Homelessness Outreach Team, or HOT, and whether they resulted in successful intakes, basic demographic details, and their exit destination. 

The city is also requiring a single point of contact to confirm daily bed availability at shelters to prevent miscommunication.  

“I do think this is an improvement. I think we’re all on the same page about really focusing on results and reporting,” said Vista Mayor John Franklin. “I’m really looking forward to this contract prioritizing people from Vista and making sure that we’re paying for those people who show up from Vista so that there’s more likely a bed for them.”

In order to continue funding, the contract requires the following annual outcomes: a minimum of 50 Vista residents receiving shelter, with 90% of those given access to case-managed social services focused on stable long-term housing. Lastly, the contract requires 30% of sheltered Vista residents to be exited to long-term stable housing. 

Earlier this month, council members heavily criticized Alliance leaders for not upholding their end of the previous agreement, requiring La Posada and Haven House to prioritize five beds each for Vista referrals. 

Outreach data provided by Exodus stated that from October 2022 to August 2023, 50 of the 87 Vista residents referred to La Posada and Haven House were turned away due to a lack of bed space.

Alliance leaders have assured the city that the data they received was incomplete and that their own records indicate a much higher level of successful shelter intakes for Vista referrals. 

At Haven House, for example, only six of the 63 Vista referrals were turned away due to a lack of beds, with the most common outcome being shelter intake, said Interfaith Community Services CEO Greg Anglea. 

Still, Anglea said there is definitely room for improvement in data gathering and that he supports the new funding model. 

“The proposed model to move to a per-diem funding right incentivizes providers to maximize those referrals. I think the performance outcomes are both reasonable and ambitious, which strikes me, as somebody who runs an organization with a lot of different programs, as a good place to be,” Anglea said. 

The changes to the contract also come at a time of transition for Haven House. 

Due to a lack of funds, the shelter has temporarily relocated from its original location to the Abraham and Lillian Turk Recuperative Care Center, a repurposed 77-room hotel with 106 beds for homeless individuals who are recovering from hospital stays due to varying physical and mental illnesses.

Extra beds at the Turk Center are currently being used for Haven House until Interfaith can identify a new permanent location for the shelter. 

Meanwhile, the city of Vista is also in the process of opening a new non-congregate shelter along South Santa Fe Avenue under a master lease with the city of Encinitas. 

Earlier this month, Vista council members said they wanted to adopt an emergency order to expedite the shelter’s opening. However, city spokesperson Fred Tracey said the order is no longer being brought forward. 

Vista/Encinitas shelter

Buena Creek Navigation Center, as it was officially dubbed this week, is set to provide services and shelter for people experiencing homelessness as early as January 2024. State Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) was responsible for netting $5 million in state funding to make the shelter a reality. 

The Encinitas and Vista city councils signed a memorandum of understanding this week, agreeing to work together and putting out a request for proposals from service providers who would carry out the day-to-day operations and provide case management. 

The center would consist of four buildings on adjoining parcels on Santa Fe Avenue — one four-bedroom single-family home, a detached garage, and two multi-family residential buildings.  

Two buildings will be used for shelter and two for administration, staff housing, common space or any other use the service provider sees fit. The shelter buildings are two stories with six rooms on each floor. At maximum capacity, with two people in each room, the center would hold 48.

Both cities agreed to work together to cover the cost of operations and share resources. Encinitas would cover 25% of the rental costs at $11,000 per month and could use 25% of the beds, while Vista would have access to 75% of the beds and cover $33,000 in rent per month, Vista officials said. 

Patty Anders, policy and housing planning manager for Encinitas, said the location of the center and Vista’s higher need are factors in the 75/25 split.

“Partnering with Vista allows both cities to substantially reduce the cost of independently operating the navigation center by sharing cost and leveraging resources,” Anders said. “It creates a more regional solution of providing emergency shelter beds in North County, which we know we are in urgent need of, and it will allow both cities to have permanent shelter beds reserved exclusively for homeless individuals of both Encinitas and Vista.”

Vista council members requested a thorough inspection of the properties to ensure they are in good condition before they enter into a lease with Santa Fe House LLC, the landlord.  

“I don’t wanna be stuck in a situation where we thought we were getting something, and we’re not getting it at the end of the day,” said Councilmember Corinna Contreras. 

According to Vista Homeless Services Program Manager Jonathan Lung, the shelter will offer flexible lengths of stay, ideally around 120 days, with options for extensions. Pets and people’s partners will also be allowed, and three meals a day will be provided.

Based on responses to the request for proposals, Vista staff are hoping to bring forward a contract with a recommended service provider by late November, Lung said. 

During the Encinitas City Council discussion on Sept. 27, resident Elena Thompson said she is concerned about the proximity of the low-barrier shelter to cannabis dispensary Vista Wellness Center and cannabis clinic So Cal Wellness Center. 

As a low-barrier shelter, Buena Creek will not require sobriety, but the use of illegal drugs on site is still prohibited and clients would have check-ins with staff that would be difficult to maintain while using drugs, Anders said. 

Thompson also said the council should get more information about funding and whether or not the city will be able to enforce its anti-camping laws once the shelter opens. Cities in California cannot clear encampments without providing adequate alternative shelter.

“I think we need to really review this contract before it gets rubber stamped tonight and we’re stuck living with it without any money to pay for it,” Thompson said. 

Sheriff’s Capt. Christopher Lawrence of the North Coastal Station said the shelter would help the team enforce these laws. 

“This gives us the ability to enforce what was previously mentioned with our ordinances related to camping,” Lawrence said. “However, for people camping in cars, state law defines their vehicle as a residence, so anti-camping laws do not apply.” 

If all Encinitas-designated beds at Buena Creek are full, the city would work through alternate avenues to find shelter for those violating the anti-camping law. The navigation center is meant to be a short-term stop to help people experiencing homelessness find resources and permanent shelter that meets their needs, Anders said.

While Vista council members acknowledged the need for interim shelter services due to the lack of beds throughout North County, Councilmember Katie Melendez advocated for pursuing permanent supportive housing opportunities.

Using the funds the city will save through the new agreement with the Alliance could be a place to start, she said. 

“I really believe that our response to homelessness needs to be intervention and resolution. When we intervene, we might be able to offer shelter options for the short term, but ultimately, more and more we realize that permanent resolutions for people’s homelessness are permanent supportive housing and affordable homes,” Melendez said. 

CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the dollar amount paid by the city of Vista to the Alliance for Regional Solutions under their shelter bed agreement. 

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