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Over the last six months, 78 homeless encampments were cleared in Vista. Courtesy photo
Over the last six months, 78 homeless encampments were cleared in Vista. Courtesy photo
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Vista council renews homeless services contracts, looks at shelter construction

VISTA — A lengthy discussion led to the renewal of three contracts for homeless services and reviewed costs and funding options for a potential city-owned shelter during the Vista City Council’s Sept. 28 meeting.

The council unanimously approved service contracts with Exodus Recovery for a full-time social worker and part-time housing navigator; Interfaith Community Services to provide shelter beds, and North County Lifeline for a homeless prevention pilot program.

City leaders also discussed building a city-owned homeless shelter, although staff will return at a later date with more details on construction and operation costs, along with potential federal or state grants.

“Many homeless people don’t qualify for resources,” said Councilwoman Katie Melendez. “It’s an extremely traumatizing experience. There are high amounts of recidivism. (We should look at) investing in shelter resources or solutions like tiny homes or micro-communities.”

According to Syliva Solis Daniels, the city’s housing program manager, early results with Exodus have seen the social worker engage 270 unduplicated residents, while 48 are actively engaged with a shelter success rate of 11%.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted a homeless pilot program earlier this year to provide North County cities with eight additional social workers, although hiring is not yet completed, Daniels said. Vista will inquire about the county’s timeline to hire a social worker, but may have to wait until the end of the year, City Manager Patrick Johnson said.

The contract with Interfaith will bolster the city’s available beds, as the Escondido-based nonprofit recently purchased a 77-room motel for $8.6 million to turn into a housing resource. The city also contracts with the North County Alliance for Regional Solutions to secure shelter beds. In total, 45 individuals have spent 1,809 nights in shelter beds, which is short of the total available nights under the contract.

The city has a 66% user rate of shelter beds, while the city has paid for more than 2,700 nights, according to Councilman John Franklin.

One of the challenges, according to Interfaith CEO Greg Angela, is many homeless Vistans do not want to move, even temporarily, out of their community to neighboring Escondido. This spurred a council discussion into whether the city could fund a shelter of its own.

“I would like to examine the possibility of a shelter,” Franklin said. “There are major financial hurdles. We would need to identify $5 million to $10 million and that’s before construction.”

Franklin also noted municipalities are the least funded (per capita) level of government, so the city would need financial help to build a shelter.

The minimum cost would be between $5 million to $10 million to acquire the property, according to assistant City Manager Amanda Lee.

Lee added that a conservative cost estimate to operate shelter per year costs between $25,000 to $50,000 per person with services provided.

The Homeless Prevention Program, which is operated through North County Lifeline, has helped 32 families (107 people) with $105,000 in assistance and has $132,000 remaining that will roll over with the renewed contract.

The city also contracts with Elder Help for its HomeShare program, Daniels said. Currently, 13 home seekers and two home providers are involved in the program, but the city is continuing public outreach efforts.

Homeless encampment clean-up was another source of debate as some residents decried the city and law enforcement for sweeping those out. Over the last six months, 78 of 85 encampments have been cleared in the city, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Over the past 12 months, nearly 31 tons of trash were collected from campsites.

Additionally, Daniels said the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board requires the city to eliminate threats to water quality, noting laws in place to protect watersheds and the environment.

“Clean-up process has been an area of concern,” Daniels said. “No two areas are alike.”