Students on campus at Bear Valley Middle School of the Escondido Union School District. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz
Students on campus at Bear Valley Middle School of the Escondido Union School District. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

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A homelessness prevention program for families in Escondido was discontinued because of a federal funding roadblock, now program leaders are looking to the city for help. 

Escondido Education COMPACT’s Families First program is a homelessness prevention initiative that provided families with financial assistance and helped them find alternative housing options. 

Different agencies – such as Escondido Union School District, Escondido Union High School District and other service providers – would refer families with children ages 10 to 18 to the program. 

Program case workers would create a plan for each family and try to help them regain financial stability. They would also help families look for employment opportunities, if needed. 

In its first year, the program helped 54 families. 

The program started in July 2021 and ran for a little over a year before its funding source was cut off. 

That funding came from Emergency Solutions Grants that were allocated by HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

These specific dollars are used for homelessness prevention, street outreach, emergency housing and rapid rehousing resources. 

Escondido, one of three cities in San Diego County receiving the funding, has been allocated these funds since 2016. But this year, Escondido didn’t receive any of that money. 

Funding allocations are determined by a formula that analyzes population, poverty, overcrowded housing, rate of low-income renters and more. Escondido didn’t meet the requirements this year. It’s unclear why, but the city’s housing officials have speculated that data from the 2020 census may have influenced the formula. 

Now, COMPACT is hoping the city will identify a different source of funding to restore the program to its full capacity, especially because program representatives say they continue to see a growing need. 

From July 2022 to February 2023, COMPACT received and screened 114 families at risk of becoming homeless, said Cynthia Nambo, COMPACT’s manager of specialized youth services.  

Elected officials and service providers across San Diego County agree: there needs to be more focus put on homelessness prevention. 

Escondido had 182 unsheltered homeless people, according to last year’s homeless census – that’s the second highest unsheltered homeless population in North County. The city also had 317 people living in shelters. 

“It takes a village. We need services on one end – creating permanent housing to get people housed, as well as shelters and other services to make sure nobody is sleeping in a car or on the street,” Nambo said. “But if we’re trying to solve the problem, we also need to put more efforts into the other end of it, which is prevention.” 

Holly Nelson, Escondido’s housing & neighborhood services manager, wrote in an email that the city is exploring “alternative funding opportunities through the County, State and Federal government to address this need.” 

As I reported two weeks ago in the North County Report, Escondido spent about $2 million of city money last year on homelessness, but 70 percent of that was spent on the Escondido Police Department, according to a city staff report

Aside from that $2 million, Escondido also received $10.2 million in grants and federal funding that went toward homelessness prevention programs, permanent supportive housing projects and emergency shelter efforts.  

Still, the report was met with criticism from many residents who argued all the money should be funding homeless services and programs that aren’t covered by federal funds, like COMPACT. 

COMPACT leaders are still unsure if they will receive funding to bring back Families First next year, Nambo said, but they are still doing as much case management as they can before referring families to other programs and services. 

Without funding, however, they can no longer offer families the most crucial aspect of the program – financial help. 

“A lot of people have this idea of what homelessness looks like,” Nambo said. “But people don’t realize that a lot of people and families are really struggling with their housing situation, and they are at a critical point where they need help.”  

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