For 17 years, an organization representing some of North County’s homeless shelters has managed to do what many public officials and homelessness experts only talk about: create a regional and collaborative response to homelessness.
The Alliance for Regional Solutions is a network of North County cities that collectively contributes funding to homeless shelters in that part of the region. The cities give money to the Alliance each year, and those dollars get distributed to the shelters within the network.
But the network has found itself in the middle of increased scrutiny about how cities should respond to the homelessness crisis.
North County had the third-largest homeless population in the county, according to this year’s homeless census, with a total of 1,436 people, making up 14 percent of the region’s homeless population.
Escondido has the highest unsheltered homeless population in North County with a 67 percent increase in its unsheltered homeless population compared to last year. And Vista also saw a spike in its unsheltered homeless population, increasing by more than 15 percent compared to last year.
With mounting pressure from residents and the continual increase in homelessness itself, city leaders are being confronted with the need to act, one way or the other.
It led to one city, Escondido, pulling out of the Alliance after 10 years of annual contributions to the network. Escondido’s City Council decided in August not to give funds to the Alliance next year, which is money that would have gone to Haven House, a homeless shelter in Escondido operated by Interfaith Community Services.
The city has been contributing around $40,000 to $70,000 annually to the shelter, through the Alliance, since 2013.
Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea told Voice in August that 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.
Escondido Mayor Dane White said during an Aug. 9 City Council meeting that he will eventually be pushing for the city to use federally allocated money to fund its own homeless shelter.
Escondido’s decision reflects a larger discussion happening regionally 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. There are only four low-barrier homeless shelters in North County and two of them are in Escondido. That’s 50 percent of North County’s low-barrier shelter beds.
White declined requests for comment.
The city of Vista is taking a different approach. It contributes $200,000 to the Alliance every year — the highest contribution out of all the other North County cities. This also comes with agreements with two of the homeless shelters represented in the Alliance network — La Posada de Guadalupe in Carlsbad and Haven House in Escondido.
The agreements allow Vista’s homeless outreach team to refer homeless residents to those shelters depending on capacity. And Haven House prioritizes 10 beds for Vista’s homeless residents as part of its agreement with the city.
Last month, though, Vista’s City Council learned that many homeless people in Vista who wanted shelter in the past 10 months did not get it because of limited shelter capacity.
City leaders said they were frustrated to find out that their homeless residents weren’t getting shelter beds, and council members were especially frustrated that the issue had been going on for months before they were told about it.
The city now wants to fast track the opening of its own homeless shelter, but it won’t be pulling out of its partnership with the Alliance. Instead of contributing $200,000 up front, Vista will reimburse the shelters based on the number of Vista homeless residents who get a bed.
Vista leaders have also asked for more frequent meetings with shelter leaders and leaders of the Alliance, as well as more frequent data reports and a higher level of involvement in the process.
Vista Mayor John Franklin said the city is still invested in a regional effort when it comes to homelessness, what he wanted was more transparency and accountability from every party involved.
“We need regional solutions because you can’t build a shelter within close walking distance to every encampment, that’s not feasible,” Franklin said. “The reason for the urgency with building our own shelter is to have more control and certainty over bed availability and access.”
Anglea said an increase in visible homelessness, as well as an increase in pressure from the community is resulting in a sense of urgency from city leaders.
“When the Alliance first started, there was very little engagement among the North County cities on homelessness and it reflected pretty minimal understanding among the different cities around what the needs and what the resources were,” Anglea said. “What I think we’re now seeing, though, is much more intense pressure on local cities to do more to address homelessness because the problem is getting worse.”
I asked him if he was worried about other cities in the Alliance responding to this increased pressure in the same way Escondido did, by leaving.
“It’s in the short term a definite concern,” Anglea said. “If other cities were to follow Escondido’s lead and no longer fund a regional solution to homelessness, that would be damaging.”
MaryLynn McCorkle, collaboration coordinator at the Alliance, echoed Anglea’s sentiment that if more cities ended up leaving the Alliance, there would be a drastic reduction in services for North County’s homeless population.
“We formed this alliance because we realized that it’s a regional issue, and we don’t have a lot of shelters, and so, it was this idea of ‘we can’t solve this on our own, but let’s all get together and work together,’” McCorkle said. “It’s disappointing that Escondido pulled out and this appreciation for a regional approach has started to go away a little bit for some cities, but I’m optimistic that with stronger communication and involvement we can keep working together.”
Carlsbad, Encinitas, Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Poway will be contributing funds the Alliance next fiscal year.