Roberts, Gaspar focus on homelessness

District 3 supervisor race focuses on homelessness/Dan Weisman

Both candidates in the District 3 race for the County Board of Supervisors say they’ll make it a priority to address homelessness.

Supervisor Dave Roberts, the Democratic incumbent, points to the progress he’s made at the county, devoting more resources to mental health services, veterans and homelessness and to opening the Live Well crisis center in Escondido. His Republican challenger, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, touts a pilot program she spearheaded in Encinitas to help match the city’s homeless with resources like social services and housing.

Organizations working in the district say the programs they’ve been pursuing are helpful, but the Board of Supervisors could do a lot more to combat the issue.

Gaspar said two state laws – AB 109 and Prop. 47 – are straining law enforcement resources as the homeless population grows, leading to quality-of-life problems for homeless people and the rest of the community.

She’s proposing something modeled after a $100,000 pilot program Encinitas adopted in January. The city funded a full-time social worker at a local nonprofit to help count and interview homeless individuals and match them with available services.

“I think my experience in Encinitas with how we’ve set up the pilot program will help a lot,” Gaspar said. “Because we’re going to learn a lot over the course of the pilot year, and we can use that information to help inform what’s happening in the county, too.”

Roberts touts his experience representing the district over the last four years, devoting more resources to homelessness, opening a services center in Escondido and pushing to use more county mental health services funds, specifically on homeless residents. “It’s not a simple one answer to solve this issue,” said Roberts. “It’s something that I’ve worked on for many, many years and I plan to continue working on it.”

He says he’ll keep pushing for successes like Project One for All, a county initiative to provide housing and wraparound services to homeless people with severe mental illness, the Live Well and Esperanza centers in Escondido that consolidated services in one building and the merger of the County Housing and Community Development department, which manages the county’s housing voucher programs and its subsidized housing, with Health and Human Services, which manages benefits like food stamps, state health care and other social services.

Two organizations that work with the homeless in District 3 – Interfaith Community Services and Community Resource Center – say the measures the candidates have been involved with are steps in the right direction.

“What they’re doing right now is pretty groundbreaking,” said Greg Anglea, the executive director of Interfaith, the largest homeless service provider in North County. “The county and the supervisors are uniquely positioned to bring together resources from throughout the county to address a countywide issue.”

Although Anglea is happy about what the county has done, he still sees major gaps.

“We’re seeing a growing number of younger homeless, particularly with opiate and other addictions,” he said. “With that you see a bottleneck … well, a desert.”

Project One for All, he said, is a huge help for people with severe mental illness. But for some people with more mild issues, accessing mental health services is still a problem.

And for addicts, Anglea said, there are only two detox programs in the county, and both have months-long waits, though Interfaith will be opening one in North County early next year. The other treatment programs require people to be clean, which excludes many people.

Rebecca Palmer, Community Resource Center director of programs, the Encinitas nonprofit that received the city’s funding for a social worker, said she thinks Encinitas is the first smaller city to really put taxpayer resources toward addressing homelessness. In addition to the social worker, an advisory committee on homelessness now meets regularly, bringing community members, businesses, representatives from Interfaith, landlords, veterans service provides, Sheriff’s Department representatives and others to the table to grapple with the city’s homeless population.

San Marcos homeless line up for supper.

San Marcos homeless line up for supper.

Palmer is happy with Encinitas’ initiative, but says the city still has a housing affordability problem that’s a huge obstacle.

“We are ready and willing to do more, but we’re constrained by the housing element and are trying to look for some reasonable and creative solutions around this,” Palmer said, referring to an Encinitas ballot measure that would increase density in certain parts of the city to open the door for more affordable housing.

Since the Encinitas program was officially adopted in April, her group managed to house four people – only one of whom was in Encinitas.

“In every instance possible, we try to have the individual sheltered in our community as a solution,” Gaspar said. “But there’s a lack of even apartments in the city of Encinitas. They’re not as available, so we may have to place those individuals in surrounding communities, utilizing the voucher system. We try everything possible to try to keep them in Encinitas, but the surrounding communities sometimes have more availability and that’s why you have to approach things as a partnership and it can’t all be done in Encinitas.”

Palmer said that’s one of the next big step she hopes to see from the Board of Supervisors – and from Encinitas.

“Housing has to be a priority and there have to be stipulations around any development that is done that there is some affordable housing.” She said.

Housing has been an issue for the county programs as well. Rising rents and low vacancy rates mean that even when county and city programs can offer homeless individual resources like housing vouchers, finding housing is still a challenge.

“Having willing landlords is a problem,” said Roberts.

He said that he’s been trying to talk to mobile home owners and other property owners to see what options there are because finding people housing has been difficult. He also said the county is looking at options on county-owned land to provide subsidized housing on – though that idea is still premature. Those are things he said he’ll continue to work on if he’s elected.

One of the things Gaspar would like to see improved is how the county benchmarks and tracks its progress with those programs, though she said she doesn’t know enough about the specifics of the county’s programs to go into what exactly would need to be changed or improved.

“We need to have an idea in mind of what is the end goal in each annual period and make it be a reasonable goal,” she said. “We need to achieve some successes along the way and build upon those. And if we’re investing resources and not making proper progress, we need to change course.”

Anglea and Palmer both agree that tracking progress with these programs is a challenge and could be improved countywide. Anglea stressed the importance of breaking down larger, annual goals into micro-level deliverables. And Palmer stressed the need for smaller check-ins between annual reports to keep these programs flexible and responsive.

Palmer also said that she hopes to see a new supervisor and the county board, in general, start to focus on preventing homelessness, rather than just trying to help people once they find themselves on the streets.

“We force people to be literally homeless before they qualify for services,” she said. “County leaders need to look at how to prevent it – it’s creating programs that are available and accessible to people who are on that thin line before rock bottom.”

Written by Maya SrikrishnanVoice of San Diego

Maya Srikrishnan is a reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at maya.srikrishnan@voiceofsandiego.org.  (By arrangement, The Grapevine reprints selected stories from the non-profit Voice of San Diego.)

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