Although The HEAP Grant is worth $256,369, only $12,208 will go directly toward the homeless. The remainder goes towards operating costs and salaries.
A coalition of concerned residents in Encinitas, a small coastal town in San Diego County, are nursing their wounds after losing a battle with the city council over a proposed homeless project. The North County Citizens Coalition (NC3) gathered 4,000 signatures, organized on social media and swarmed city hall Wednesday to air their grievances against a Safe Parking program. The group raised concerns with the grant money, location, councils intent, and fear of becoming a magnet for vagrants like other cities throughout California.
More than 150 speakers signed up to speak for and against a designated parking space for the homeless to spend the night. The meeting lasted well past midnight with high emotion, and passion. Two constituents announced their plans to run against the current mayor and another council member. Council approved the highly contested project with a 4-1 vote, following a closed-door meeting by the City Council last week.
The Safe Parking program was proposed in October by Jewish Family Services after they were offered a HEAP grant. Leichtag Commons that operates a farming community in the middle of a residential neighborhood was approached by JFS to offer bathrooms, security and 25 parking spaces along with wrap-around services to help the homeless get back into permanent housing.
The issue with the HEAP grant is that it comes with strings attached according to County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. City officials are telling residents the parking program will be only for Encinitas residents and will not invite more homeless to the small beach town. Gaspar said HEAP is a regional grant and the city will not be able to limit the program to just city residents. Gaspar explained the issues with the grant to residents at a Jan. 9 public meetings. The better option according to Gaspar was for the community to use local resources and programs that already exist to prevent the city from becoming a magnet for vagrants.
People on both sides of the Safe Parking program issue agreed they wanted to help the homeless differed in the delivery of services and location. A representative from the League of Women Voters said, “Cities across the state are adopting the Safe Parking model.”
Those against the proposed project want the Safe Parking outside of a residential neighborhood and operated with local funds without strings attached.
Those supporting the parking lot for the homeless shamed those who were against the proposed program. The proponents called those in opposition racist and insensitive. However, most who were against the current Safe Parking project thought the city could do better and didn’t want the HEAP grant to be used. The NC3 members stood up to the attempt of public shaming and fought back with statistics, facts, and stories about how the vagrant homeless have destroyed communities throughout the state of California.
Frustrated and angry with the city council, resident Julie Thunder announced during her two minutes allotted time to speak she is running for mayor in 2020 against incumbent Catherine Blakespear.
“We are asking you to stop using the HEAP Grant and let us as a community help our own using our own resources,” said Thunder.
Jeff Morris a long-time surfer and resident of Encinitas is upset with the city council. Morris feels the current council members are ignoring the needs and wants of the community. Morris supports helping the homeless and has helped many himself through surfing. Surfing he said helps people find peace of mind and clarity which is essential to putting their life together.
“We are now working to get rid of you,” said Morris to city council. “You all picked a fight and you will lose this fight.”
Another resident told city council, “The hobo hotline is open. You (council) are not compassionate by creating another squatters paradise. This safe parking program has a 66% failure rate. It failed in San Francisco, San Clemente, and every city in North County San Diego has turned down this program.”
Tamara Doll said, “Great cities deteriorate because of the homeless. This is not compassion for the people who work hard and pay to live here.”
Although The HEAP Grant is worth $256,369 only $12,208 will go directly towards the homeless. The remainder goes towards operating costs and salaries.
Another resident asked the city council to consider hotel vouchers instead of letting people sleep in their cars.
The Leichtag property is located in a part of the city zoned for agriculture. But the city council used a 2017 Shelter Crisis law that allows them to declare a homeless crisis and override a zoning ordinance for shelter.
The city is accused by residents of Encinitas of misusing a homeless crisis resolution. Gaspar also said, “Encinitas city officials used the 2017 Point in Time count resolution to declare a crisis but they needed 125 homeless in the city to declare an official crisis. The last official count had the city with only 84 homeless. Declaring a shelter crisis allows the city to thwart the zoning laws, sidestep voter approval and skip environmental reviews.“
According to the State Shelter Crisis law, the city can use its police powers to turn public facilities no matter their zoning into public housing facilities during a state of emergency. The city of Encinitas voted to declare they were having a housing crisis after JFS came to them with the grant from HEAP.
Ron Medak said, “I think Leichtag is using this for a pot of gold for rezoning, its free tax payer money for JFS to fund their salaries, for city council its for political gain or payback for their friends. They are all bullies masquerading as do-gooders and victims.”
The Safe Parking program that was approved is temporary and will be reviewed every three to four months. However, funding is limited so it is unknown how long JFS can financially operate the program. As a result on Friday city council announced a proposal to allow people to sleep anywhere they want in their cars.
Also on Friday officials from NC3 announced they formed a LLC, “We are a group of Encinitas residents, businesses, and other concerned parties who are raising awareness about controversial issues in the City of Encinitas and dedicated to holding our city council accountable to listening to the people they represent. We plan to continue our fight with a lawsuit for their violation of the Brown Act, ignoring CEQA requirements and with a recall to replace of all five council members.”