VISTA — The Vista City Council recently supported issuing an emergency declaration to fast-track the opening of a new homeless shelter after learning that residents were being turned away from existing shelters due to an insufficient number of beds.
Mayor John Franklin called a Sept. 12 special meeting to discuss the lack of shelter space and “concerning” data from the local shelter network. During the heated discussion, council members insisted the city critically re-examine its contract with the Alliance for Regional Solutions.
Under the contract, the city provides $200,000 annually to the alliance to connect Vista residents with shelter services at Haven House in Escondido, La Posada in Carlsbad, Operation Hope North County in Vista and two Interfaith Shelter Network rotational programs.
The agreement includes a provision that La Posada, run by Catholic Charities, and Haven House will each prioritize five beds for Vista residents every night. These beds are low-barrier, meaning individuals with addiction won’t be turned away.
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, according to outreach data from Exodus.
Council members said these are not the results they wanted to see, especially with the city allocating a significant amount of money to the Alliance.
“To see, listed out, the 50 individuals that were denied shelter on the basis of very low information of a bed not being available, beds that we paid for, it’s concerning from a fiscal responsibility standpoint, and it’s also concerning from an ethical standpoint,” said Councilmember Katie Melendez. “It’s a big machine to run, but we have to have incredibly high standards for how we operate.”
Because of this shortfall, Franklin said opening the city’s new shelter as soon as possible is imperative. The city has identified two rented buildings along South Santa Fe Avenue that will be used for the non-congregate shelter, containing 18 rooms for Vista residents and six for Encinitas residents.
While the city still needs to issue a request for proposals for a shelter operator, Franklin suggested adopting an emergency declaration to bypass this process and get the shelter open sooner, ideally before the end of the year.
“We need these beds online yesterday,” Franklin said, adding that the city should operate like its “hair is on fire” until the shelter is open.
City staff informed the council that the shelter is currently planned to be open in January, but agreed to bring back an emergency declaration for consideration at the council’s next meeting.
‘There have been some challenges’
Vista Homeless Services Program Manager Jonathan Lung said shelter services have been particularly overwhelmed since the beginning of the year, leading to decreased bed availability. However, the notification process regarding daily bed availability is also inconsistent and not handled by one point of contact, leading some contacts to being lost, he said.
Alliance Collaboration Manager Marylynn McCorkle said she is committed to ensuring improved communication, data collection, and noticing of available beds between the Alliance, the city and shelters in the network.
Despite these assurances, council members said they would like to consider new terms to the contract when it is up for renewal on Sept. 26. Franklin suggested moving to a daily reimbursement model for each bed successfully given to a Vista referral rather than providing funds upfront.
Filipa Rios, chief program officer for Interfaith Community Services, which operates Haven House, told the city that all shelters in the Alliance are operating at a funding deficit and that the $200,000 in city funding helps all the shelters in the network, not just Haven House and La Posada.
She added that the data discussed by the council does not include all the Vista residents that are referred to the network.
“There have been some challenges — I’m not gonna deny that — I think on behalf of both shelters [La Posada and Haven House],” Rios said. “We are committed to working with Exodus and Catholic Charities and sitting down and looking at our data and really coming up with solutions for how to better serve the city of Vista.”
If Vista were to pull or reduce its funding, it would be yet another blow to Haven House, which was denied HUD funding from the city of Escondido for the first time in a decade last month. According to Interfaith officials, the shelter was not chosen because only 60% of Haven House clients were from Escondido.
As a result, the shelter has temporarily relocated from its historic location at the Betty and Melvin Cohn Center across the street to the Abraham and Lillian Turk Recuperative Care Center
The council is set to discuss an emergency declaration as well as the contract with Alliance for Regional Solutions at their Sept. 26 meeting.