Some homeless residents who received vouchers from the city of Encinitas stayed at a Quality Inn in Encinitas. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

I’m disappointed in your recent article, “Homeless Residents Housed in Encinitas Hotels Are Being Sent Back to the Streets,” criticizing the city of Encinitas and the Community Resource Center for our quick and innovative efforts to immediately protect vulnerable people struggling with homelessness in the face of a rapidly spreading contagious virus.

I invite you to reflect on the perspective that you brought to this story. It’s easier to tear down something that isn’t completely successful than to support a creative approach that helped several dozen people when they needed it most.

Do you know of any other city that provided motel vouchers for those living unsheltered as a short-term, emergency approach to help flatten the curve and protect them? I’m not aware of any city that stepped forward in this way. We did not wait for homeless people to get sick and then offer them a motel room. We stepped up to provide funding for rooms to prevent them from getting sick in the first place.

Our motel vouchers helped more than 80 people, some families with young children, avoid getting the coronavirus during a time when the numbers were rising fast.

For your article, VOSD interviewed none of the recipients who were deeply grateful to be inside, even for a short time. VOSD also interviewed none of the recipients who moved from the motel into a stable housing situation.

Your article only quoted people who felt they should have been provided more – better food, company when lonely, gas cards, medical access, transportation for their belongings and indefinite housing solutions. Implicit is the expectation that the city government or the CRC can and should provide for all these needs. This is unreasonable at many levels. It is especially unreasonable given that the county, not the city, is supposed to provide for health and human service needs, specifically homelessness.

The county of San Diego has received $1,785,116.45 in state funds to address homelessness during coronavirus and none of it has come to Encinitas, either in the form of reimbursements for motel vouchers or in an offer of shelter for Encinitas homeless.

I am proud of the city of Encinitas for mustering the courage to try something short-term that could have led to breakthroughs from other levels of government. When the city voted to provide these motel vouchers to help people with no home to “stay at home”, we didn’t know what opportunities might emerge.

  • Maybe the Regional Task Force on the Homeless would lease a shuttered motel in North County and provide services to needy people in the comprehensive way that is needed?
  • Maybe the state money dedicated to San Diego County would be used to reimburse Encinitas and continue to provide motel rooms until the pandemic ended?
  • Maybe a dormitory-like situation would be created so they could stay inside in a cost effective way?
  • Maybe Encinitans experiencing homelessness would be offered a spot in the newly opened Convention Center downtown?

Unfortunately, none of this has come to pass, but does that mean it wasn’t worth doing?

From my perspective, we were acting because the status quo was not good enough. We were pushing for something instead of nothing. We were pursuing a possibility and buying time for these folks while longer-term options were being explored.

Our hearts go out to people experiencing homelessness in Encinitas, which is why we were nimble and took this chance. We still hope and intend to be financially reimbursed from FEMA or from the state for our general fund expenditure.

Government officials with vision imagine a better future and break through boundaries to try new ideas that tackle the complex and intractable problems that plague us, like homelessness.

Negative articles like this one give readers a needlessly skewed picture that discourages courageous governmental initiatives and encourages apathy and inaction on the part of leaders. The article’s point seems to be that unless a solution is 100 percent successful, it’s not worth doing – I reject this.

Some of our solutions might not be totally successful. But we are spending time and energy on the possibility of success. So many times, we can get bogged down with stagnation in thinking, lack of creativity, bureaucratic power struggles, fear of failure, or paralysis when confronted with so many options.

VOSD’s angle could have been articles with either of these headlines, “Encinitas only city that provided new, temporary shelter for homeless during pandemic” or “County receives $1.7 million for homelessness during pandemic, how much of it was used to create a new bed inside?”

I encourage you to call out inaction and complacency and recognize the efforts of those trying to do more. Necessity is the mother of invention. Or stated another way, challenges birth innovation. Please use your journalistic voice to encourage iterating and the expansion of what’s possible. This is what will foster a better and more just county and give “residents the knowledge and in-depth analysis necessary to become advocates for good government and social progress,” as your organization’s mission states.

Catherine Blakespear is the mayor of Encinitas.

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