Escondido is making progress in its efforts to reduce homelessness, but more resources are needed to have a greater impact on the problem.
These were the observations made at a recent Escondido City Council workshop meeting, which focused on the medical services now available to help the homeless and the obstacles to achieving the city’s goals.
Another key point was that solving the problem will require the efforts of many different entities, from city and county governments to nonprofits, residents and businesses.
“Homelessness is a national challenge. No organization will solve it on its own, ”said Escondido Deputy City Manager Robert Van De Hey, who oversees the city’s homeless outreach efforts.
Still, board members seemed encouraged by the ongoing efforts.
“I think we are getting closer to a solution to this problem,” said Mayor Paul McNamara.
Board member Mike Morasco said there are at least two dozen organizations in town that could help with homelessness efforts, and more involvement is needed.
The city’s partners are doing a great job, said Morasco, but “there is still a lot to do.”
Escondido’s response to the homeless ranges from police and firefighters responding to emergency calls to public works crews cleaning up debris from homeless settlements. The city also has contracts with service providers, such as Interfaith Community Services and Education COMPACT.
Estimates of the size of Escondido’s homeless population vary. An annual tally from the San Diego Regional Homelessness Task Force, last conducted in early 2020 (the tally was skipped last year due to the pandemic), found Escondido to have 429 homeless residents, compared to 408 in Oceanside and 147 in Carlsbad. The working group is preparing for an updated tally in January.
However, the continued outreach of Escondido’s Interfaith Community Services has made it possible to establish contact with 607 homeless people over the past 12 months, said Greg Anglea, the group’s executive director. The most common reason given for homelessness in a person, he said, was illness or disability, at 43 percent, followed by job loss, 25 percent, and costs. high housing, 14 percent.
Van De Hey, in his presentation to the council, noted that when homeless people cannot access basic services such as transportation and medical care, they are more likely to experience medical emergencies and need ‘transport by ambulance. This in turn taxes the city’s emergency medical services.
So far in 2021, Van De Hey said, city ambulances have recorded 487 trips involving homeless people, many of them for multiple trips, at a cost of between $ 803,000 and $ 974,000. Few of those costs are reimbursed, he said.
The city has estimated that the societal costs of a single homeless person for one year total between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000, including emergency transportation, medical care, garbage cleaning, prison, services. social welfare and housing, according to the report.
Although programs exist to provide a variety of different services to the homeless population, a shortage of resources in some areas is hampering efforts to address the problem, officials said.
For example, beds in Escondido intended for such purposes as convalescent care – after discharge of a homeless patient from hospital – drug treatment for men and emergency shelters are all to be found. near full capacity, Anglea said.
“The reality is that most of the people on the streets tried to get help and it didn’t work for them,” due to the lack of beds and other resources, Anglea said.
Immediate needs, Anglea said, include “sobering rugs” and housing with ongoing support services.
While treatment programs help with drug and drug addiction issues, it can take several days or more to find an open bed and enroll in these programs, Anglea said. The sobering-up mats are a place where homeless people who need help can be taken immediately and provide them with a safe place to sober up. Interfaith last offered such services in 2013, Anglea said, but the agency is looking for a suitable location for a new program.
Another critical need is permanent supportive housing, in which former homeless people can live independently, pay a fixed percentage of their income in rent, and receive support in the form of counseling and life skills courses. Interfaith operates 31 housing units with ongoing support services, and they are all full, with little annual turnover.
“There just aren’t enough of them in Escondido and San Diego. It’s a critical lack of resources, ”Anglea said.
The city is also keen to expand its stock of permanent supportive housing, Anglea said, and funding is available. His agency and others are looking for vacant properties or those, such as hotels, that can be converted into housing.
Such efforts are important, Anglea said, because the problem will not go away anytime soon.
“We have a lot of data that shows us that there are more homeless people, and the effects of COVID-19 have contributed to it,” he said.
During the pandemic, as businesses and public facilities closed, homeless people lost access to everything from bathrooms to places where they could charge their phones. Another factor has been a sharp reduction in the population of the County Jail, one of the largest providers of mental health services.
“Being homeless has become much more difficult and much more dangerous,” Anglea said.