Carlsbad Boulevard / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A recent Carlsbad City Council meeting ignited a discussion about the effectiveness of shelters that don’t have a laundry list of requirements to enter after one elected official criticized the city’s only shelter for its low-barrier status and voted against a grant that would allow it to expand its services. 

La Posada de Guadalupe is an emergency shelter for men and has had a low barrier for entry since 2019, meaning it doesn’t require things like sobriety, background checks, program participation and more. Low-barrier shelters are often considered a “housing-first” approach.  

In North County, the need for more homeless shelters and homeless services is evident. According to the recent homelessness census, the population of unsheltered people in North County has significantly increased since 2020, yet resources and shelter for these individuals are severely limited. 

As more shelters slowly spring up, the debate about low-barrier vs. high-barrier shelters will only get louder. 

At the May 24 meeting, Councilman Keith Blackburn said he was unaware of the shelter’s low-barrier policy and worried that people with drug and alcohol addictions were being “coddled.”  

“I’m struggling with this,” Blackburn said of the vote before the council.  

He said some people are homeless because they’ve decided that alcohol or drugs is more important to them than housing, as well as another group of people who’ve decided that homelessness is right for them.  

Mandy Mills, the city’s director of housing and homeless services, explained that in the past couple of years, more and more shelters have shifted to a low-barrier approach. 

“Low barrier is intended to reduce the barriers to having people accept the resources and come,” said Mills. “It’s not an invitation to encourage people to drink; however, if someone had alcohol on their breath or had been using, they can still stay.” 

Mills added that these individuals cannot be disruptive or put themselves or anyone else in harm’s way. 

Antoinette Fallon, director of services for Catholic Charities of San Diego, said individuals are also not allowed to use alcohol or drugs on site and reiterated that they are not allowed to engage in violent behavior. 

“We don’t want to have so many barriers that the people who are most in need of our services are unable to access them and end up remaining on the street,” Fallon said. 

The council ended up approving the grant for the expansion of services at the shelter, operated by Catholic Charities of San Diego. The shelter is one of only two 24-hour, year-round low-barrier shelters in North County. Two more shelters with similar entry policies are in the works in Oceanside and Escondido. 

The shelter also provides a separate transitional housing program for farmworkers.  

The council approved the grant 4-1, with Blackburn opposed. The resolution is a one-year $155,000 grant, with options for two one-year extensions up to $165,000 annually.  

The funding will be used to hire two additional clinicians, a necessary step for the shelter to continue operating as low barrier. Catholic Charities has its sights set on expanding services to women and children, according to the staff report

Interfaith Community Services operates the only other low-barrier homeless shelter in North County. Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea told Voice of San Diego that low-barrier shelters don’t mean there are no rules, but that these individuals are given the same rules that everyday people have in their day-to-day lives. 

“We are really supportive of low-barrier shelters that empower people and treat people with dignity and respect and meet them where they’re at,” Anglea said. “The long-term success of individuals who make their own decisions is just greater, and we’re able to help more people and get more people in the doors.” 

He added that many people, once they experience the safety and stability that a shelter provides, often come to realize on their own that they want to overcome their addiction problems. 

Anglea also pointed out that Carlsbad and Escondido are the only two cities that saw a decrease in unsheltered homelessness in North County, according to the recently released point-in-time data, which he believes is related to the two cities’ low-barrier shelters. 

Operation Hope in Vista is the only high-barrier homeless shelter in North County for families, women and children. It requires sobriety, including drug and alcohol testing, as well as a background check, identification and program participation. 

The organization says one of their top priorities is creating a safe space for individuals to “reclaim family dynamics, establish stability and rebuild their lives,” which they believe can be better achieved through creating higher barriers and stronger guidelines. 

According to their most recent numbers, they served 198 clients in 2020-2021. 

In Other News 

  • It appears Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, a Democrat, will be facing off against Republican small business-owner Matt Gunderson in the November general election for the state Senate District 38 seat, according to Tuesday’s election results. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The city of Del Mar will ask the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday to delay SANDAG’s bluff stabilization projects, including more than 2,500 feet of new seawalls, concrete-and-steel soldier piles, drainage ditches, a trail, pedestrian crossings and more. The Del Mar council says the project will endanger access to the beach below the bluffs. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Oceanside’s Bread of Life Rescue Mission permanently closed its doors last week. The San Diego Rescue Mission, which operated the service, will shift its focus to a new 50-bed homeless shelter set to open in Oceanside in the next couple of months. The dining hall, food pantry and thrift store served the community’s homeless population for more than 20 years. (Union-Tribune) 
  • The Del Mar Heights School rebuild has been delayed once again after a San Diego judge granted an injunction in an ongoing lawsuit by a nonprofit claiming the project did not undergo a proper environmental impact report. The Del Mar Union School District has been planning the $45 million rebuild of the school since 2019 and was originally expecting to have it ready for the 2020-2021 school year. (Coast News) 
  • The San Diego County Fair officially returned to the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Wednesday. The fair will run through July 4. (La Jolla Light) 

Join the Conversation


  1. I am also struggling with Carlsbad Councilman Blackburn’s problem with a low barrier shelter. He doesn’t want the homeless on the street in part because of their drug and alcohol use, but he also doesn’t want them in a shelter because it will let them in even if they are drunk or high. In the shelter there are case workers who can help the residents on their path to getting clean and or sober, on the street their are pushers who facilitate the homeless getting worse.

    This seems to be a no brainer, am I missing something here?

    1. No, you are on point. It just seems like that council member does not know what he wants or cannot think clearly.

  2. If a shelter doesn’t emphasize sobriety, it is unlikely that a case worker will even broach the subject.

  3. I think Blackburn will come around on this one as he (hopefully) dives into data and studies re: how to help people experiencing homelessness. It will likeleuy be a big issue in the mayoral race.

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