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Vista honored for efforts on homelessness

VISTA — The city of Vista has been recognized for its continued efforts to battle homelessness.

The International City/County Management Association named Vista’s Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness a recipient of the 2022 Local Government Excellence Award in Community Health and Safety.

“The street is no place for any person to live, and a compassionate society does not allow for anyone to live on the street,” said Deputy Mayor John Franklin.

The ICMA is a century-old agency with more than 11,000 members dedicated to improving residents’ quality of life through municipal government. The ICMA’s annual Local Government Excellence Awards, open to the U.S. and international jurisdictions, will be presented in September at the association’s annual conference in Ohio.

This year, 14 municipal programs and five individuals received awards. Vista is one of two cities from California on the list.

“Good for the city,” said Paul Webster of the Hope Street Coalition, a leader advocating for the unhoused. “They took a realistic view of what they could actually do. They not only invested in a social worker to do the appropriate outreach but also to get valuable information back to the city to make sure what they’re committed to is actually working.”

Vista’s Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness was developed in 2018 — the same year the City Council first placed homelessness as a top priority, as it would again in 2021 — and aims to tackle homelessness in a “tailored to Vista” fashion, according to the plan’s site.

For example, Vista found social workers best suited its unhoused population and has since boosted its outreach team — internally and through external contracts — and focused on the services used.

“We have implemented every good idea,” said Franklin, who is persistent about keeping homelessness a priority in the city. “We’ve held listening sessions with the community. … We have listened to every good idea that’s been brought to us.”

Franklin said the City Council has only turned down one (idea) — which included offering rides to an out-of-city shelter — due to practicability and limited transportation space.

“But we did acquire a van for our social worker,” Franklin said, adding the safe transport of belongings and pets is a major key in connecting an unsheltered person with a housing resource.

Webster said while the city’s goals to improve quality of life and prevent/reduce homelessness are not necessarily innovative, the application of methods is commendable.

Vista relies on various funding sources to carry out its strategic plan, including local, state and federal funding to provide services. It is always on the lookout for grants and collaborations within the county. There is a plethora of funding available to cities through grants and state/federal dollars, money that sometimes has repercussions.

“Some cities may look at dollars available and commit to ambitious programs,” Webster said, “and the problem is they spend a lot of money, obligate the city, and then these programs don’t pan out.”

Webster said that Vista does an excellent job of working within its authority and knowing when to collaborate. The city also emphasizes collecting data.

Data on civic connections and appeal to services is one topic Franklin brings up in City Council meetings when discussing the strategic plan and other programs to address homelessness in Vista. Franklin said comprehensive data collection helps the council make better decisions and highlights needed resources in the city.

From October 2020 to March 2022, city staff made 289 unique contacts with people and offered shelter. Overall, there have been nearly 2,000 contacts.

Franklin said the city will keep its momentum and look for opportunities to connect with other local governments in North County for a regional outlook on homelessness.

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