Mayor of Escondido Dane White at City Hall in Escondido on May 19, 2023.
Mayor of Escondido Dane White at City Hall in Escondido on May 19, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Last November, Escondido Mayor Dane White unseated the incumbent to win the mayoral race. At 33 years old, the Republican became Escondido’s youngest ever mayor. 

Thirteen years earlier, White was living on the street behind the 7-Eleven on Centre City Parkway and Country Club Lane in Escondido, severely addicted to drugs. 

The two things he says he needed most during that time are the very tools the city needs more of: shelter and addiction recovery centers. 

White is a fifth generation Escondido native. He lived with his parents until he was about 15 when they sent him away to boarding school – he’s the first to admit he wasn’t the easiest child to raise.  

At 16, he ran away from boarding school and started living with his grandpa in Utah until his grandpa kicked him out because White had started using drugs. 

That was the first time he became homeless. 

During the next few months, White stayed at different friends’ homes for as long as they would let him. Later, he got arrested for trespassing into an impound lot to retrieve his belongings from a friend’s car. 

“When I got out, I’ll never forget sitting in court,” White said. “They called my dad, and my dad said, ‘we don’t want him.’ They called my mom, and she said, ‘we don’t want him.’ They called my grandpa, and he said, ‘I don’t want him.’ So, I became property of the state of Utah and was put in a foster home.” 

Once he left his foster family at the age of 18, things took a turn for the worse. 

He had found an apartment with his friend that turned out to be next door to a drug dealer. White’s addiction quickly worsened. He lost his job and, a couple months later, lost his apartment. 

Once again, he was homeless, and this time his addiction was severe. 

For the next three years, White lived either on the streets or, if he was lucky, on a friend’s couch for a couple weeks.  

“Most of the time I slept behind the 7-Eleven on Centre City and Country Club,” he said. “Until one day I went in the store to buy something, and I came back, and my duffel bag had been ransacked and half of my stuff was gone, so I didn’t stay there anymore.” 

He often traveled back and forth from Escondido to Utah on a Greyhound bus looking for small jobs in construction, a couch to sleep on and drugs. 

The drug abuse, White said, was nonstop. White did not want to specify what he was addicted to. 

“When I was 20, it got to the point where I had seriously contemplated wanting to live anymore,” White said. “I didn’t want to be here anymore. I just had nothing left to give.” 

One night, after a night of drinking and doing drugs at a party in Escondido, White became extremely sick.  

He had an intense moment of realization that he was going to die, either that night or sometime soon if he continued abusing substances. 

Within a couple weeks, White moved in with his mom, Googled outpatient rehabs, found the North Inland Regional Recovery Center in Escondido and checked himself in.  

He became sober and never fell into homelessness again. 

“The hardest part about being homeless was going to sleep every night and just wondering what will happen tomorrow,” White said. “You’re always wondering, ‘am I going to be dead? Am I going to jail?’ The uncertainty is very scary.” 

Now, as mayor, White hopes to prioritize tackling homelessness in Escondido, which he says previous Escondido mayors failed to do. 

“The problem in Escondido is, the number of homeless people has gone up, but the number of services has stayed relatively close to the same,” White said. “We pretty much rely on Interfaith and a couple of local healthcare providers to do all of our bidding.” 

Interfaith Community Services is a homeless service provider headquartered in Escondido. The nonprofit operates two of North County’s three low-barrier homeless shelters. Low-barrier shelters don’t require things like sobriety or background checks to enter. 

Voice of San Diego previously reported that Escondido spent about $2 million of the city’s general fund money on homelessness last year. But 70 percent of that was spent on the Escondido Police Department, the largest portion of the city’s overall budget by far. 

Escondido has the second highest unsheltered homeless population in North County according to the 2022 Point-in-Time Count. 

“We also have to take into consideration this projected deficit that everybody talks about in Escondido, so it’s going to take different funding mechanisms that haven’t been considered yet,” White said. “It proves a little more difficult, but it’s not impossible.” 

Escondido has been facing a structural budget deficit for the past several years and is currently set up to spend more money every year on its obligations than it expects to collect from taxes. 

In its last budget cycle, the city had to close an $8.5 million budget deficit and is expected to run a deficit of up to $23 million by 2036.   

He and the other council members will be exploring other funding mechanisms in the coming months, White said. 

White, perhaps owing to his own history, parts company with many homeless advocates and service providers, arguing that drugs and alcohol are the primary cause of the crisis. Nationally, studies indicate between 25 percent and 40 percent of the homeless population is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both. Local results from the point-in-time count land in the same range

But White argues the best way for Escondido to combat homelessness is to combat addiction. 

“I believe that the majority of folks in Escondido are homeless because their lives have become unmanageable due to an addiction to drugs or alcohol,” White said. “So, my personal philosophy in Escondido is we need more treatment. We need to address the underlying cause of why people are homeless.” 

Once people receive treatment through sobering centers, detox centers and longer rehabilitation and mental health programs, they need access to shelters, White said.  

After shelters, they need permanent, long-term housing, he added. 

“When my bag got ransacked behind 7-Eleven – everything in that bag would’ve been labeled as junk to somebody, but that was literally my life in that bag,” White said. “I’ve seen this huge, complicated issue firsthand and when it comes to solving it, you can’t take extreme positions. You can’t solve this problem simply by jailing everybody or simply by giving everybody a home. The answer is somewhere in the middle.” 

Tigist Layne is Voice of San Diego's north county reporter. Contact her directly at

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  1. In this story, the Voice of San Diego story exhibitsits usual liberal bias regarding facts. It hypes the fact that “Escondido has the 2nd highest unsheltered homeless population in North County.”

    But VOSD failed to mention that Escondido is easily the 2nd largest city in North County.

    The homeless problem is indeed real. Just report ALL the facts.

    1. For a mayor who is supposedly so understanding and willing to help the homeless, why was I com pletely ignored by him, the city and Interfaith when my son and I reached out for help after losing our home in a fire. No help whatsoever. More people should be asking him exactly where that $2 million is going.

  2. Finish the story! How did he get from being rehabilitated to Mayor of Escondido?? What line of profession got him to the Mayor’s door? Great story! Please continue with Part two of the climb he endured to get where he is today. Seriously this is the kind stuff that brings awareness to people that people can change! I wish him the best in his endevors to make a change that can truly make a difference with the homeless situation. Voice of San Diego we all look forward to reading part two of the Mayor of Escondido’s transformation.

    1. So basically Mr White is doing the opposite of what could help bring in money. Marijuana is legal and could be sold in Escondido but because our mayor had a drug issue the people who don’t are punished. A Dispensary or two could bring in a lot of tax dollars. I personally don’t drink, take drugs or use Marijuana but why limit others if they can manage it?

      1. Wonderful that Dane White made it out of addiction and is determined to work on addiction and homeless in Escondido. Sure there are other issues but this one is just huge and affects everyone. It doesn’t work to ignore it or to jail people, obviously. And it’s making parks and some neighborhoods seriously unsanitary for anyone. This is a problem in so many cities.. Great we have a mayor who understands it and is willing to take the lead!

  3. For those questioning the dispensary issue…it was Mayor Sam Abed who said no dispensaries in Escondido. Mayor White has mentioned Escondido having dispensaries to bring the tax dollars from dispensaries to Escondido. Mayor White is in my opinion the best Mayor Escondido has had in many years.

  4. The simple fact that our Mayor is convinced that something that only affects 25%-40% of homeless people is the root off all homelessness just shows he is not competent to lead on this issue.

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