Encinitas adopts controversial plan for reducing homelessness 

Encinitas city sign
(Charlie Neuman)

Staff also directed to start recruiting housing manager, social worker to implement the plan

The Encinitas City Council unanimously adopted a homeless action plan Wednesday, Feb. 24, after hearing from nearly two dozen public speakers who offered starkly different views on the document.

Proponents passionately declared that the new city plan was a much-need, public acknowledgement that Encinitas has a homeless problem. They said the document would provide excellent guidance as the city takes the “right, proactive steps” to get people housing and health services.

“We need a plan to do what we can, a plan that leads to action,” Encinitas resident Bob Ayers said, adding that he thought Encinitas would be better off as a city if it helped its homeless population.

Opponents were divided over whether a huge homelessness problem exists in the city. Some said there were only a small number of homeless people in town and therefore the city ought not to declare the issue a top-priority item, while others said the city’s current homeless population is such a problem that they avoid going to certain destinations, including city parks. Both groups said they thought the city’s new plan would drastically increase the number of homeless people in Encinitas, contending that the document’s stated goals will actually encourage out-of-town homeless people to descend upon the city to obtain free services.

“If you subsidize something, you get more of it,” Encinitas resident Scott Campbell said, calling “doing nothing” a very viable solution for Encinitas and saying it’s probably the best choice for a situation like this.

Fellow action plan opponent Elena Thompson said the city’s focus should be on “keeping our businesses open and afloat,” and let charitable organizations handle the homeless situation.

“Enlist your charities and hold them accountable,” she said, urging the council to make charities identify their clients and do “full health diagnostics” before giving away food or other services.

The newly approved, city homeless action plan lists three “key task” areas for the coming year, in addition to adopting the plan. Those tasks are:

  • Approving funding for a housing manager, who will implement the goals of the plan, seek grants, work with a regional homelessness task force, and help coordinate the work of various city agencies, faith-based organizations and other social service providers.
  • Allocate money to “expand outreach efforts” to the city’s homeless population using a social worker and/or case worker.
  • Increase community education efforts, including updating information on the city’s web site and setting up training sessions on topics including crime prevention.

In addition to approving the planning document, council members directed the city manager to start the hunt for a housing manager, a process the city manager said is likely to take three months from start to finish.

Councilman Tony Kranz said he personally didn’t see the homeless population situation as the city’s “top priority,” but said he thought the new plan was a good step and the hiring of a housing manager was much needed. The city used to have one, but when that person retired in 2013, the position was not filled, he said.

“I think in retrospect that was a terrible mistake,” he added.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said she wanted homeless-related problems in the downtown business corridor to be a priority, while Mayor Catherine Blakespear said neighbors of Cardiff’s Glenn Park area also would like that area to be a focus of outreach efforts.

The regional “Point-In-Time” homeless population count, an annual, one-night count of how many people are living out-of-doors or sleeping in their vehicles, found 80 people within the Encinitas city limits, but area social services organizations say they provide assistance to far more people than that.

Community Resource Center reported serving 572 households, or 860 people, during fiscal year 2018-2019, with 11 percent age 65 or older, 35 percent disabled, and 8 percent veterans, a city staff report states.

The Homeless Outreach Program for Empowerment, also known as HOPE, served 110 persons experiencing homelessness in the last six months of 2020, the report stated. Half of them were over 55 and 70 percent were men.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune