Project looks to fight Encinitas homelessness

Encinitas will attempt to find housing for much of its homeless population through a $108,000, city-funded pilot project.

When the Encinitas City Council approved the 2016-17 budget on June 22, money was designated for the Encinitas Opening Doors pilot project, proposed by the Community Resource Center and Interfaith Community Services — two northern San Diego County social service organizations.

With funding starting July 1, CRC has appointed Azucena Acosta, MSW, as its “Housing Navigator” — a full-time social worker who meets with homeless individuals on the streets, identifies their needs through a specific assessment tool and walks them through the steps to obtain housing.

Rental-assistance programs already exist, particularly for homeless veterans, but what’s lacking are trained case workers out on the streets, Interfaith Executive Director Greg Anglea told the Union- Tribune in April.

In addition to paying for the social worker, the project has set aside money for one-time payments to landlords who agree to accept new tenants that were formerly homeless. The city is putting $15,000 into that program to incentivize landlords to participate.

“The expectation and the hope is that this pilot project can be replicated (in other neighboring communities),” said Rebecca Palmer, the Community Resource Center’s director of programs.

Each year, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless conducts a one-day count of the homeless population in San Diego County. The most recent report, from January, showed Encinitas having 93 homeless people, of which just 39 were living in shelters. Six percent of the 54 unsheltered homeless were veterans.

Plans call for at least 50 of the city’s homeless people to be matched with the navigator, including all of the “homeless veterans seeking housing,” Palmer said. The second goal will be to obtain housing for at least 25 homeless people before the trial period ends, she said.

Opening Doors is part of a national effort known as the 25 Cities Initiative, a federal Housing and Urban Development agency program to end homelessness in 25 cities with high concentrations of homeless people, including the city of San Diego.

Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar told the Union-Tribune she was glad to support the proposal and that it offers hope to what can seem like an overwhelming problem. With issues like this, people “feel defeated before we’ve even started,” she said.