County sweetens deal, offers services to cities that open homeless shelters

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Any city in San Diego County that opens a new homeless shelter will receive various county-funded services under a memorandum of understanding offered Monday.

In the memorandum of understanding offered to the county’s 18 towns, Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the new shelters will be equipped with county behavioral health services, public health education, tools communicable disease screening and a social services specialist to help homeless people access benefits and resources for food, finance and health care.

In return, cities would agree to pay for staff, three meals a day, security, sanitation, storage, cleaning, and general operating and maintenance costs. People in shelters would also have access to showers, toilets and laundry services.

To incentivize those cities, Fletcher said a proposed $10 million grant package to help fund new shelters will go to the Board of Overseers for ratification on May 24. One-time funding would help cities open shelters, safe campsites, tiny houses or other programs that would get people off the streets.

“As we make these grants, we’ll be researching which cities can move quickly,” Fletcher said of how the funding will be determined. “Who can quickly get things up and running. Who can get people off the streets and get them the help and services they need.

Fletcher said priority for funding will go to shelters that can be up and running in months rather than years.

“My messages to mayors and managers this morning were, ‘Start getting your ideas, start getting your plots of land and what you could do there,'” he said.

The memorandum of understanding was presented to city leaders Monday at an intergovernmental roundtable of the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. The virtual meeting brought together representatives from every city in the county except for Coronado, Encinitas, Poway and Imperial Beach.

National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis was not at the roundtable but said she was briefed by the city’s deputy manager, who was there.

“That’s what we need,” she said of the county’s agreement to provide shelter services. “We need comprehensive services. We can’t just say, “Here’s a good one. Do they need mental health services? Do they have ID? »

Sotelo-Solis said she was also excited about the $10 million grant program.

“I know it’s one-time funding, and it’s a challenge,” she said. “However, when we seek to address homelessness and homelessness, we have to go all out and try to make things work.”

Homeless attorney Michael McConnell said he wasn’t too impressed with the county’s offer to provide services because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

He liked that outlining the services in advance could streamline the process, and he said it could help get people off the streets.

While McConnell has always advocated for more housing rather than shelters, he said he likes the idea of ​​encouraging more cities to open shelters to help people in their communities.

“I’ve always been a fan of small shelters spread across the county,” he said, adding that homeless people generally want to stay in their own town. “I certainly welcome and encourage cities to take advantage of this.”

The largest shelters in the county are in downtown San Diego, which also has the largest sidewalk encampments. The latest count conducted each month by the Downtown San Diego Partnership found 1,474 people were living outdoors in April, a significant increase from 875 in April 2021 and the partnership’s highest monthly count dating back to January 2012.

Homelessness occurs throughout San Diego County, however, and there are indications that it has increased. A long line of RVs that are being used as temporary homes line the streets north of Old Town, campsites are scattered in the canyons, riverbanks and in an area known as the Jungle in South Bay, and tents can be spotted on bridges and near exits in many cities. .

The regional task force on homelessness found that the number of people homeless for the first time nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, from around 2,300 to 4,100.

The last countywide count was in January 2020 and found 7,619 homeless people, more than half of whom are living homeless. The most recent count was made in February and the results are expected to be released next week.

Fletcher said the county has previously worked with the City of San Diego on various projects to help the homeless, but the issue is one that affects cities across the county and will take a multi-jurisdictional effort to resolve.

“The situation on the streets demands that we continue to look for every possible way to put in place more shelters, safer parking, safer camping,” he said. “And we can do it much faster.”

The MOA is different from a memorandum of understanding envisioned by El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove at Santee. In the memorandum of understanding, presented last week by supervisor Joel Anderson, the four cities would work together to find emergency and long-term housing sites for the homeless.

Tamera Kohler, CEO of the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, called the proposed memorandum of understanding transformational by providing a clear list of what the county will provide for new services.

Kohler said she also appreciates the flexibility given to cities in providing grants for a variety of shelters.

“It empowers each community to address homelessness at their scale,” she said.

Some towns in San Diego County are already taking steps to open their first shelters. Oceanside plans to open one by the end of this year while the San Diego Rescue Mission plans to open a shelter in National City next year.

In National City, the nonprofit Amikas is building small houses for homeless mothers and their children, Chula Vista is creating a shelter with prefabricated structures, and Vista plans to open its first shelter.

Fletcher said it will be interesting to see which cities apply for a share of the grant, and he hopes the county will be inundated with proposals for projects that can be put in place quickly.

He also said he hopes the no-in-my-backyard attitude that has been a roadblock for many homeless services will fade as more people ask for solutions to the problem. .

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