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Brother Benno's Foundation says security costs could shut them down

People line up for resources outside of the Brother Benno's Center in Oceanside, Calif. Feb. 28, 2023.
Tania Thorne
People line up for resources outside of the Brother Benno's Center in Oceanside, Calif. Feb. 28, 2023.

Tension has been growing between the Brother Benno’s Foundation in Oceanside and a number of the nonprofit's neighbors since January.

The organization provides food and resources to the community in the business park on Production Avenue.

But business owners in the area say the people Brother Benno's serves are causing damage.


And property managers say they’re having a hard time leasing vacant properties.

As a result, in May, the Oceanside Planning Commission recommended Brother Benno's hire a third-party security company. In mid-August the nonprofit began paying a private security firm to patrol the area.

"We need to do everything we can to keep the doors open," Ben Meyer, the organization's essential services manager said. "We have hundreds and hundreds of people that depend on us. Their lives, their families really depend on us being here."

But the expense is not in the budget, Meyer said.

"It's not sustainable for us currently to do that. It is a move simply because of the stakes that have been laid out by the business park and these people," he said.


Brother Benno's is part of a committee that includes nearby business owners, the city and law enforcement officials, tasked to come up with potential solutions.

But Meyer said there has been little collaboration from the businesses.

"It's not an attempt at working with us or working together to address homelessness," he said. "They want us shut down. They want us out of here, cut the water off."

Brother Benno's owns the building it operates in and the city granted them a conditional use permit in 1991.

It allows them to operate and provide services as long as their operations aren’t detrimental to the public or nearby properties.

Nearby property managers believe Brother Benno's is in violation of that permit and are asking the city to revoke it.

When contacted by KPBS they declined an interview, but instead provided a list of 14 businesses they say are moving out of the business park due to Brother Benno's clients.

In an emailed statement Andrea Contreras, who represents a group of the property managers, said the additional security has not made a big difference.

"(The property managers) continue to lose existing and potential tenants, and therefore income, as the result of the conflict of use between Brother Benno's services and the rest of the surrounding industrial park," she said.

But Meyer thinks security has helped improve the situation around the business park and his clients have been understanding.

"A lot of them have been receptive to that and trying to find somewhere else to go," Meyer said. "But again, that's the problem. Where do they go? We can’t just take these people and drop them off in the middle of the woods and tell them 'good luck'. We have to figure out that part next."

Oceanside’s first homeless shelter recently opened and is on referral basis by Oceanside Police.

As of Monday, 20 beds were available.

Oceanside’s planning commission is taking up Brother Bennos’ permit and operating conditions at a meeting on Monday evening.

Meyer said if security becomes a condition of their permit, the organization would like the city to help pay for it. The organization doesn't currently get any financial support from government agencies, he said.

"We got to work together to solve this problem. It's not going to just be Brother Benno's solving it. So, were hopeful," Meyer said.

Paul McNamara, the former Escondido mayor, took over as Brother Benno's executive director last week. He said over the next few months he plans to reach out to the community and police to get feedback on the organization and ask: "'Are we meeting the needs of our clients? Are we meeting the needs of the community, And what can we do better?,'" he said.

McNamara said his impression of the organization was that they are addressing a problem that isn't going to go away, but it doesn't come easy to the clients going in for services.

"There's a tough-love element here," he said. "'We'll help you, but you have to make certain commitments.' And we have a lot of success with that."

To help address the business park's complaints, the organization has also hired cleaning services and reduced its hours.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.