For the past 10 years, a homeless shelter in Escondido has received unwavering financial support from the city, until now.
Haven House operated by nonprofit Interfaith Community Services is currently the only year-round homeless shelter in the city. It has 49 beds for unhoused men and women and has a low barrier to entry, meaning it doesn’t require things like sobriety or background checks from its residents.
The city has been contributing around $40,000 to $70,000 annually to the shelter since 2013. This is a portion of the money Escondido annually receives through Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, funds, which is allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
City officials were expected to give $50,000 to Interfaith for fiscal year 2023-2024, like it has for the past decade. They do this by putting the money toward the Alliance for Regional Solutions, a network of eight North County cities that collectively contributes funding to homeless shelters in that part of the region.
Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea told Voice of San Diego that Escondido’s entire contribution each year went to Haven House, while money from other cities is typically distributed throughout the network of North County shelters. This was a mutual agreement between Escondido, Interfaith and the Alliance.
It’s a small portion of Haven House’s $1 million-dollar annual operating budget, but Interfaith counted on it every year, Anglea said.
The City Council, though, decided earlier this month to no longer contribute anything toward the only homeless shelter in the city, while the other North County cities continue to support it.
“This is a very significant and very unexpected departure by the city of Escondido to no longer support that North County shelter network,” Anglea said. “It’s just kind of strange now that seven other North County cities are providing funding for a shelter operating in the city of Escondido, and that Escondido itself is no longer supporting.”
Escondido’s contribution ended up being only about 5 percent of Haven House’s total annual operating budget of roughly $1 million. Still, the loss of those funds will have an impact, he said.
“We are looking at some likely changes to that program to be able to best support the current residents and future residents of Haven House,” Anglea said.
Anglea said city officials told him the primary reason for this departure was because they were concerned that only 60 percent of the residents of Haven House became homeless in Escondido. Meaning the other 40 percent came from other cities in the region.
But that’s the nature of how these shelters work, Anglea said.
“I don’t think that city leadership fully understand the other shelters that operate in North County,” he said. “And the reason I say that is one of the other shelters in the network is a family and women’s shelter in Vista called Operation Hope North County, and its second-most common city of origin of their residents are people from Escondido.”
There’s a larger discussion happening regionally, though, about how cities should approach the homelessness crisis. More and more cities are being transparent about the fact that they want to prioritize helping homeless people in their own cities.
That especially applies to city leaders who may feel like they are doing more than other cities around them, like Escondido.
Haven House was the first year-round emergency homeless shelter in the history of North County that serves both men and women, and the city of Escondido has played a significant part in that effort over the past 10 years.
Escondido also gave Interfaith $400,000 of one-time Covid relief funding in 2022, which helped Haven House expand to a 24/7 shelter.
City officials also helped secure funding to help with upfront costs for Interfaith’s new family shelter opening soon in Escondido – it will be the first and only low-barrier family shelter in North County.
There are still only four homeless shelters in North County today including Haven House, and only three of them are low barrier. The other is a higher barrier shelter exclusively for women and families.
Once Interfaith’s new family shelter opens, two of North County’s four low-barrier shelters will be in Escondido. That’s 50 percent of North County’s low-barrier shelter beds.
Escondido Mayor Dane White said during the Aug. 9 City Council meeting that he will eventually be pushing for the city to use its CDBG money to fund its own homeless shelter.
For now, the council decided to divert that $50,000 to support The Alabaster Jar Project, an organization that provides long-term transitional housing and resources for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
That idea came from the council’s Homelessness Subcommittee, made up of Mayor White and Councilmember Joe Garcia.
White said during the council meeting that he chose the Alabaster Jar Project after visiting with the organization and “found it quite compelling.”
Garcia said he assessed all options and believed the organizations they chose to fund, including the Alabaster Jar Project, “were meeting what the community was asking for.”
The council approved the changes 4-1 with Councilmember Consuelo Martinez opposed.
That’s because Susan Johnson, executive director and co-founder of the Alabaster Jar Project, said during the meeting that its long-term housing program does not accept transgender people who are biologically male, but its resource center accepts everyone.
Martinez said during the meeting that she didn’t feel comfortable moving forward with funding for the Alabaster Jar Project because of that rule.
The Alabaster Jar Project has a housing program called Grace House, which provides up to two years of rent-free housing for up to six clients, as well as a separate drop-in resource center that provides clothing, toiletries, programming and a peer support group.
White and Garcia could not be reached for further comment.