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Vista has canceled its attempts to open a shelter, after no homeless-serving nonprofits responded to its request for bids.
Organizations that looked into Vista’s February call said the project wasn’t viable because the city did not include a stable, ongoing funding source or a location for the shelter, instead expecting organizations to solve those issues as part of their pitches.
Vista had hoped to receive multiple responses from North County homeless services providers to operate a low-barrier, year-round shelter. Low-barrier shelters don’t require things like sobriety or background checks for people to enter. The city currently has one, higher barrier shelter run by Operation Hope, a homeless services provider based in Vista.
But after not receiving any bids for eight weeks, Vista closed the request for proposals.
Interfaith Community Services, Vista Community Clinic and Operation Hope each looked into Vista’s request, but all decided against responding.
Megan Hawker, the chief of staff at Interfaith, said the largest obstacle was the project’s lack of dedicated funding either from the city or from the county.
She used Interfaith’s shelter in Escondido, Haven House, as a comparison. Haven House has a dedicated funding source from the city of Escondido, and Interfaith pays for the remainder of the shelter’s operations by fundraising from individuals and foundations.
Hawker said it’s too difficult for an organization like Interfaith to identify funding themselves and that the city would have had to identify a source from the start for Interfaith to consider responding.
“It costs money to provide these services,” Hawker said. “It can’t just be one entity that says, ‘hey, I’m going to take this on,’ it really needs to be a regional effort being in partnership with the city and the county for it to succeed.”
Sylvia Solis Daniels, Vista’s housing programs manager, said the city spoke to the county about funding, but the county had “limitations” on what kind of funding partnerships it could enter.
The county recently announced a memorandum of understanding, an agreement that cities could reach with the county where each city that opens a new homeless shelter could be provided with various county-funded services. It also created a new grant program that makes $10 million available to cities for new emergency housing projects.
Both those programs, though, came in May, two months after Vista closed its search for shelter proposals in March. But Vista doesn’t appear to be a good match for the county’s shelter program.
Daniels said the county’s grant program was looking for shelters that could be up and running in a matter of months whereas Vista’s shelter would have taken much longer. Vista leaders were also apprehensive to agree to the county’s memorandum of understanding, because they didn’t want to give up control over how to operate the shelter by following county requirements attached to the money.
Daniels added that the city is open to partnering with the county in future opportunities.
The lack of a site location was another big obstacle for organizations considering the project.
Daniels said Vista has a handful of city-owned parcels and some available private properties that they showed to interested organizations, but the organizations felt that none of the locations were adequate.
Hawker compared Vista’s process to the way Oceanside pursued its soon-to-open navigation center and shelter. When Oceanside asked for bids for that project, it had already identified a site.
Daniels, though, said the city needed to partner with an organization first to make the shelter possible. She said the organizations simply didn’t have the funding or resources available to make it work.
“I think all providers throughout the county, probably throughout the state, are seeing the same restrictions and same limitations and same challenges,” Daniels said. “There’s increase in cost, the lack of staff, the lack of availability, the increase in resources or the increase in demand for resources.”
Hawker, however, said Interfaith had enough staffing to operate a shelter, it just needed Vista to identify an ongoing funding source up front.
Daniels said Vista isn’t abandoning the idea of opening a new shelter, but for now, it’s shifting its focus to helping build new permanent supportive housing for homeless residents, a method that combines subsidized housing and supportive services like health and mental health care to address chronic homelessness.
Vista will be partially funding the project using what’s left of its redevelopment dollars from when the state dissolved redevelopment agencies in 2012, Daniels said.
That pot of funding is restricted to permanent affordable housing, and only $250,000 a year can be used for homeless shelters and homelessness prevention. According to Daniels, the city would need $2.5 million a year to cover the operational costs of a shelter.
But since the state allows cities to spend redevelopment money on permanent supportive housing, Vista can use about $6 million on a long-term housing project for homeless residents. Daniels said the developers themselves will acquire the rest of the funding, which can total anywhere from $20 million to $34 million.
But once that funding is secured, it will account for the total lifetime of the project, Daniels said. A site has not yet been identified for the project.
The city is hoping to have an RFP for the Permanent Supportive Housing published by the end of August.