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Vista makes progress in clearing homeless encampment, but fails to secure shelter provider

The city of Vista is expanding its homeless outreach programs, and it has gotten some help from the state of California. In March, the city accepted a $1.8 million encampment resolution grant from the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal ICH).

Vista was the only city in San Diego County to receive the grant.

The grant is intended to help people living in encampments in the Buena Vista Creek Trail and watershed area, as well as to restore the site to its original state.

On Wednesday, Lourdes Castro Ramirez, the co-chair of Cal ICH, visited the Vista encampment and met with city partners addressing homelessness.

“I had an opportunity to meet with the city, to meet with the County Sheriff's Department, to meet with Exodus (a recovery program in Vista) and the various partners that are working together to ensure that individuals that are living in encampments have access to services and ultimately are able to move into stable housing environments,” she said.

Castro Ramirez said the grant had helped fund new outreach team members, housing assistance for people living in the encampment and cleaning up the area to protect wildlife.

“We heard today about the progress that they're making. The stories of being able to connect individuals and, also, that these dollars are helping them implement a plan that was developed in 2020, focused on bringing together teams to help unsheltered individuals,” she said.

The encampment resolution grant that Vista received is a demonstration project, and, if successful, will expand to other cities.

Castro Ramirez said California Gov. Gavin Newsom was already looking into expanding it. “This year there was $50 million. He’s proposing $500 million to grow the encampment resolution fund program to provide more resources, to support more communities that are bringing together diverse groups of partners to address this issue," she said.

Seventy-three-year-old Jim Conley currently lives in the encampment. He told KPBS that, though he has noticed more outreach from the city, he is lost when it comes to his status on getting housing assistance. “They came up to me and asked me a couple of questions," he said. "I told them the truth ... and, next thing I know, I was out of the program.”

Conley said he wanted to get out of the encampment. “All I want is a room," he said. "They can keep my money — just a room to sleep in at night.”

He said he received about $700 a month for Social Security.

“I get my retirement and all that, but ... it's just not enough,” he said. “If they could put up a place for people, something like: 'Pay what you can.'”

The city of Vista was requesting proposals for a low-barrier homeless shelter, but no applications were submitted.

Sylvia Solis Daniels, the housing program manager for the city of Vista, said she reached out to providers to understand why there was no interest. “A lot of our providers are seeing the increase in homelessness and the increased cost of addressing homelessness, and it's a challenge for our providers," she said. "It's not that there's not a need: It's the growing challenges that there's not enough resources available for these providers.”

Solis Daniels said the city had changed gears and was now looking into developing permanent supportive housing and a safe parking area.

Amanda Lee, the assistant city manager for Vista, thinks that these projects will have more success because there are more funding sources available for them.

“With permanent supportive housing, we have something called 'housing dollars,' which are very restricted to only permanent housing. So, unlike the shelter, where we weren’t able to identify funding sources, with permanent supportive housing, we are able to identify city resources that can go towards the building,” Lee said.

Sites have not been identified, and a request for proposals is in the works to be presented to the City Council.