VISTA — After making substantial progress in addressing homelessness on multiple fronts in 2023, Vista leaders say they are ready to realize real solutions to get folks off the streets in the year ahead.
The topic of homelessness programs took center stage during the city’s State of the Community event on Jan. 22., in which leaders spoke about accomplishments from the past year and what residents can expect to come.
In addition to a strong financial situation boosted by cannabis revenues, new leadership in multiple city departments, and decreased crime rates, Vista Mayor John Franklin said the highlights of the past year included the creation of the city’s safe parking program and an agreement to open a non-congregate shelter in collaboration with the city of Encinitas.
“There’s no question; homelessness has been the number one issue on the minds of residents of the larger Vista community. We are all passing residents living unsheltered on the streets, or maybe off the streets, and it’s never far from our minds,” Franklin said.
He said the city’s Safe Parking Program, which opened in September at the Vista Civic Center, is already seeing positive outcomes. Jewish Family Services of San Diego, a nonprofit organization that oversees five other safe parking programs throughout the county, manages the location where up to 25 people who live in their cars can park safely each night.
Participants are also offered case management and other services to ultimately get people into permanent supportive housing. Franklin said five individuals have entered housing through the safe parking program since it opened.
The city is also anticipating opening its first permanent supportive housing development, which broke ground last May. The Santa Fe Senior Village in downtown Vista will provide 54 furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments to residents age 62 and older who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as veterans experiencing housing insecurity.
Franklin also extensively discussed plans for the city’s first non-congregate shelter, the Buena Creek Navigation Center, to open in March. Five million dollars secured by State Sen. Catherine Blakespear will fund the center’s first three years of operation, with a contract granted to Retread, Inc. last month.
Franklin said the low-barrier shelter will be unique in the region, providing more privacy to clients with two-person rooms operated out of two multifamily apartment buildings. It will be co-leased with the city of Encinitas, with rooms set aside for residents from both cities.
“The 24 bedrooms here at the Buena Creek Navigation Center. are empty today, but within just a few months, they’ll be full of warm furnishings, ready to welcome new residents,” Franklin said. “I believe this from the bottom of my heart: the city of Vista has done more to passionately address homelessness, more to provide solutions, and more to reach out to individuals living on our streets than any other city on a per-capita basis in our county.”
New homelessness committee
Looking ahead to the following year, the city is continuing its work to implement its Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness. On Jan. 23, one day after the State of the Community, the City Council discussed the possibility of forming a new standing committee to address homelessness-related topics and make recommendations to the council.
Councilmember Corinna Contreras said the city needs a committee that can meet in public session each month to address many of the issues related to homelessness that the City Council does not always have the time to discuss in depth.
“We just do not have enough meetings in the year to address the severity of the issue of homelessness,” said Contreras. “We need another government-sanctioned place to talk about these really important topics.”
The Homeless Services Program Manager is in charge of the city’s internal Homelessness Working Group, which includes representatives from various city departments, outside service providers, and public agencies.
Deputy Mayor Katie Melendez said there is a need for a committee with more direction and oversight than the existing working group and recommended that the new committee draw from members of that group to prevent work from being duplicated.
The council established an ad hoc committee of Melendez and Franklin to meet with the working group and determine how to move forward. The membership of the new committee is to be determined at a later time.