County launches homeless outreach teams in North County cities

San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer discusses the county's new North County homeless outreach teams.
San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer discusses the new North County homeless outreach teams Monday morning at the Live Well Center in Escondido. Other speakers included Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara and Supervisor Jim Desmond, behind and to the right of Lawson-Remer.
(Gary Warth)

A 17-member outreach team consisting of social workers and licensed clinical social workers


Teams of social workers, licensed clinicians and other specialists soon will be deployed in North County as part of a multipronged effort to connect homeless people with services and housing.

At a Monday press conference at the county’s Live Well Center in Escondido, elected county and city officials representing North County said the new approach will take the burden off individual cities, shift outreach from law enforcement to trained social workers and focus on serving individuals, including people who may be reluctant to accept help.

“Homeless outreach is human outreach,” Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said. “Too often we don’t look at people experiencing homeless as people. That has been made clear by the fact that many unhoused individuals do not actually want to use the array of homeless services that we have available.”

Lawson-Remer said homeless people sometimes are reluctant to accept services because of a lack of trust with service providers.

“This is not the fault of an individual here or there,” she said. “It’s the failure of our entire regional system.”

The 17-member outreach teams will have 10 social workers to do case management, five specialists from the county Health and Human Services Agency to connect people with various services and two licensed clinical social workers.

Team members include five county workers who have been on the job since last summer as part of a North County outreach team launched as a pilot program last summer.

Lawson-Remer and Supervisor Jim Desmond said law enforcement homeless outreach teams will not be on the front lines under the new approach, which they said is another way of building trust with homeless people.

Oceanside Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim, a former police officer, said he agreed that law enforcement agencies are not best-equipped to handle complex situations involving homelessness.

Barbara Jiménez, head of the Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Community formed by the county in April, said the new North County outreach teams are one of the first steps in implementing the homeless solution framework adopted by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month. More outreach teams will be launched in East County next month, she said.

The framework includes housing and programs for homeless prevention, substance abuse recovery, rental assistance, employment and shelters.

Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara said leaders in North County cities have been meeting with one another and county supervisors to discuss how to better coordinate homeless solutions and outreach.

“We started talking with each other and we realized there isn’t one size that fits all,” he said.

Desmond said that a former mayor himself — he served in San Marcos from 2006-2014 — he knows that sometimes cities may not have the resources to create their own homeless outreach teams and programs, and the efforts can drain funds that otherwise could be used for parks, trails, public safety and other expenses.

“By partnering with the cities and the county of San Diego, this program will help triage those in need of services,” he said, adding that the partnership may provide transportation, incidentals such as clothing and food, short-term housing through vouchers and help in obtaining identification.

Also speaking at the press conference, Interfaith Community Services CEO Greg Anglea said his nonprofit had provided help for more than 1,000 homeless people through its outreach teams in three North County cities, but there are less than 150 shelter beds in the area to serve them, and they are full most nights.

The new partnership with cities and the county will help determine how many more beds are needed and will help keep track of all homeless people in the area by creating a by-name list of clients.

“Together we will work that list and help every individual access the resources that’s the best fit for themselves,” he said. “It takes a partnership with all the entities.”