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The proposed homeless shelter in Vista will be allowed in a commercial or industrial-zoned area. File photo
The proposed homeless shelter in Vista will be allowed in a commercial or industrial-zoned area. File photo
Cities Community Region Vista

Vista City Council approves RFP for homeless shelter

VISTA — The Vista City Council approved moving forward with a request for proposal to possibly build a homeless shelter during its Oct. 26 meeting.

The council approved the recommendation for staff to create a request for proposal (or RFP) along with continuing regional discussions with other cities and the county regarding homelessness. The council said they want options for its shelter proposal to allow for flexibility and potential to reach scale for, perhaps, a less expensive cost to the city.

According to Sylvia Solis Daniels, Vista’s housing program manager, Exodus Recovery conducted a count of homeless over the last four quarters from October 2020 through September 2021.

The results were a total of 427 homeless with a majority being men and between ages 25-59, she said. Veterans accounted for 7% of the population. Another count by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless tallied 281 homeless in Vista in 2020.

While the council did not give staff a timeline on the RFP, the issue is one of priority and will return to the council as soon as possible.

One challenge for Vista has been those who decline housing, Daniels said. Those include a dorm-like living environment, too many pets, unable to co-habitat in the same bed or a previous negative experience.

“If we do this now, it’s going to be like drinking from a faucet instead of a fire hose,” Councilman Joe Green said, referring to the state possibly forcing cities to build shelters. “What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Our goal is to get our homeless population sheltered and back as productive members of society.”

The shelter will be allowed in a commercial or industrial-zoned area of the city. However, the cost came as a significant concern to Mayor Julie Ritter and Councilman John Franklin.

City Manager Patrick Johnson said the cost is between $25,000 to $50,000 per bed per year to operate a shelter. Franklin also expressed concerns with the current contract of beds not being used and questioned whether the city should focus on getting those beds filled before moving forward with a shelter.

Councilman Joe Green said some smaller hotels and motels could be possible locations, noting they’re already built, have separate rooms and can allow for wraparound services.

Ritter, meanwhile, said it’s a significant cost and one the city must bear for years to come.

She also had concerns over where to build, those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and who would manage those individuals. However, Ritter said, “the bottom line for me is where is all the money going to come from?”

Councilwoman Katie Melendez, who is a social worker, championed more personal spaces for homeless individuals at shelters, noting it allows them to compose themselves and take stock of their situation. Additionally, she said more entities are moving forward in a more innovative and compassionate way to handle the homeless, opposed to leaving it to law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

She also hammered home the shelter must be low barrier, citing examples of other shelters where such barriers impede progress. And by creating more personal and safer spaces, the city can reach more individuals and help reduce recidivism, Melendez added.

Councilwoman Corrina Contreras said transportation is a huge barrier for the homeless, noting it can take more than one hour for someone in Vista to reach a shelter in a neighboring city.

“I don’t think we need to operate a massive operation,” she said. “I want us to produce a really effective shelter that will meet the need. We can have and operate a smaller shelter that’s more integrated into the community.”

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