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Cover Story January 11th, 2007

  Untitled Document


by lyle e davis

I have a dear friend who cannot for the life of her figure out why these feral cats keep coming to her door. She thinks about this often. Usually each morning and again that afternoon, when she puts out food for them.

She is a well educated woman; attractive, well dressed, articulate, smart. But she apparently hasn’t yet figured out why these feral cats keep coming to her door.

Similarly, the city of Escondido has about 777 beds available for folks that need a helping hand. 777! There are those citizens in Escondido who wonder why we have so many poor and homeless folks wandering the streets and parks of Escondido. There are others who wonder why Escondido doesn’t do more.

One wonders if there might be a parallel in these two stories.

Recently, a majority of the Escondido City Council has been beaten up pretty steadily in Letters to the Editor in the North County Times. A small, but highly vocal, and generally liberal minority, has been casting epithets and aspersions upon the council dais and its occupants.

At the same time, many of these same critics are complaining that we have so many drifters and indigents folks walking around and/or loitering in Escondido.

Many of the Escondido City Council are crying ‘foul.’ The council majority has been called ‘cruel’ and ‘heartless’ because it denied a last minute request for an emergency winter shelter for the homeless. The critics, council members say, simply don’t have the facts before them. They are being critical based on emotional issues rather than knowing what they are talking about.

The Salvation Army recently asked permission to open a 50-bed emergency winter shelter in Escondido. The request did not involve the use of any city funds.

The council majority voted to deny permission. Why?

In part, because the city council felt they had been ambushed and, in that they felt a solid agreement with the Interfaith Community Services organiztion had been breached and because they could document that the city of Escondido had done, and continues to do, far more in providing services to the poor and homeless than all other North County cities combined.

The request was made on December 20th, five days before Christmas. An emotional time of year anyway, the council felt that The Salvation Army had been dragged into the middle of this argument.

At least one council member, Ed Gallo, feels that pressure was through the efforts of Interfaith Community Services and Suzanne Pohlman, its Executive Director, and he’s not happy about it.gallo
Councilman Ed Gallo: “They (The Salvation Army) are the innocent collateral damage if you will. The Salvation Army joined with other churches in Inland North County in a rotation of two week shelters which they could have done without a press conference by Suzanne Pohlman and a contentious council meeting. By the way, there were seven churches participating in this so-called rotation of emergency homeless winter shelters. Five are in Escondido (now six of eight) one in Poway and one in San Marcos. Sharing the load? How does Escondido’s provision of six out of eight shelters equate with ‘sharing the load?’

Another thing. Suzanne Pohlman and the Interfaith Community Services organization did not keep their word with us. They asked, a year ago, to approve a request with a specific promise to not come back again for another extension, for a 44 bed emergency shelter and a 10 bed men’s emergency shelter.

Here is the text of the motion: Moved by Abed, Seconded by Waldron, to approve a request from Interfaith Community Services for a 44 bed emergency shelter from December 15, 2005 through February 28, 2006, noting that when construction is completed on the facility to accommodate the transitional housing program (Merle's Place), the existing CUP will once again be in effect, which allows for 44 bed transitional housing program and a 10 bed men's emergency shelter. Motion carried unanimously.

Did you note the 10 bed emergency shelter? No-one has mentioned this. The City was promised last year and here we go again just before Christmas when emotions run high with another request.

Enough is enough. Another thing, the winter emergency shelter rotation is designed to handle the 20 homeless people that have been put up at the Salvation Army so far. (They requested 50 beds) The next two week stint moves to Poway and the purpose of this rotation is to share (Escondido 'shares' 75% of the load) so the folks move to the next shelter and so on. So why does the Salvation Army need to continue the shelter all winter?"

Mayor Pro-Tem Sam Abed:
"We all agree that homelessness is an unfortunate and growing social problem that needs to be addressed and managed to provide a better life for the unfortunate people of our community. We also agree that the North County region has a moral obligation to collectively provide comprehensive solutions and share the responsibility. The major problem is that for over 20 years, Escondido has been the leader in providing, by far, the most financial contributions, social services and shelters to thousands of residents and neighboring communities, here are the facts:

According to the October 2006 Homeless Regional Taskforce Report, between 2000 and 2005, Escondido funded around 4 million dollars out of 6.2 million provided by all NC cities. Escondido is 10% of the 18 cities population, yet provides one third of the funding, the highest spending per capita of 28 dollars per person, compared to 19 dollars for Vista, 15 dollars for Oceanside, 7 for Poway and only 3 for San Marcos. A closer look at the homeless shelters distribution gives Escondido the lion's share of 777 beds compared to 428 in Vista, 240 in Oceanside, 56 in Carlsbad, 48 in Encinitas, 12 in Fallbrook and none in Poway and San Marcos."

Abed also points out that one organization, Interfaith Community Services, according to their own website, serves 26,000 welfare recipients from all of North County every year.

I believe they should decentralize their operation to other North County cities to minimize the impact on Escondido.

Look, the IRS website points out that there is an existing over concentration of 499 non-profit organizations, around half of our social service providers. Additionally, from the eight churches participating in the shelters rotation program, six are in Escondido.

We are doing more than our fair share . . . way more in my judgment. This honorable record clearly demonstrates that Escondido is providing as much as most of North County cities combined, carrying the burden of the region for many years.

We are convinced that most other cities continue to resist addressing their homeless and social problems because Escondido is always willing to provide more for the poor. We oppose the liberal views and other media's biased reporting advocating that Escondido should be a sanctuary city for low income housing, social services, illegal immigration, poverty and homelessness.

The Escondido Council civic duty is to do what is best for the community at large, by providing economic stability, maintain and promote a vibrant and healthy city where citizens and families can visit and enjoy our parks and downtown in a safe environment. We are proud of our accomplishments in caring for the poor, a long history of compassion that cannot be denied. We urge the North County region to partner with us to provide a regional solution to the homeless based on fair share participation in terms of funding and resources to make North County a successful region. Escondido cares."

DanielsCouncilmember Dick Daniels: "For me, this issue has been a struggle of conscience, trying to balance the best interests of all citizens and legal residents who live and work in Escondido with the needs of people who find themselves trying to survive in distressful economic and social conditions.

At the Council’s December 20 meeting, my first instinct was to look at the community at large and the inordinate burden our city already bears in providing beds and facilities for not only homeless people but others in different transitional situations. My initial concern was the growing reputation our city has for housing most of the North County region’s homeless and indigent population and the negative impacts that can have on improving the quality of life for all who live and work here. All communities share a responsibility to care for those among them who are less fortunate; ours has assumed a greater share of that responsibility, compared to our neighbors in the region and even beyond.

I and my council colleagues have a responsibility to serve and protect the community at large and so I opposed the request that would have added even more of the homelessness burden to our city. I indicated at that meeting, along with other councilmembers, that there needed to be a cooperative approach to serving the homeless population among cities in the region.

Since then, after a great deal of personal reflection and soul searching, I now realize that, while all the above circumstances are true, I made the wrong decision in opposing the Salvation Army’s request for at least two reasons:

1. Our commitment to serve all the community should never require to do so at the expense of fellow citizens who, for mental or physical handicaps or because of economic tragedy, find themselves totally dispossessed of even the most basic necessities of life. Compassion and the significant economic progress we’ve made have co-existed in Escondido for some time. Those values must continue to co-exist, especially when the lives and physical wellness of human beings are at stake.

2. Homelessness doesn’t respect city boundaries; addressing the problem will require a regional approach. Escondido has the most at stake in the need for a regional solution and therefore must take the lead in initiating that approach. To encourage other cities to participate, we must continue to model the behavior we want from those jurisdictions – caring for homeless people in our region. Whatever we have done in the past or are doing currently beyond this project will be covered over and forgotten if we deny a church the ability to care for a relatively small group of desperate people under highly adverse weather conditions for a matter of a few weeks this winter. It’s human nature for people to remember the last thing one does or doesn’t do.

We need to be consistent and even take the extra step which in this case is to allow the Salvation Army to continue to operate a climate-activated homeless shelter for up to 40 individuals for the balance of the cold weather season. Therefore, I will support Escondido’s participation in a regional task force on Homelessness and the Salvation Army’s request to provide the climate-activated homeless shelter through March 15. "

WaldronCouncilmember Marie Waldron: "I don't understand what all the hoopla is about. The winter rotational emergency shelter program is up and running and the Salvation Army shelter has been open since before Christmas with 50 beds available. On Christmas Day, 18 people came to the shelter. Since then on average about 20-25 people are there, meaning 25-30 beds go empty. Why do we need to add 50 more beds?

Why is ICS (Interfaith Commnity Services) telling their donors and the North County Times and the Union-Tribune editorial boards that "people are being left out in the cold?” Maybe because the facts don't line up with their agenda, so they need to make it up.

Not including the 50 rotational shelter beds mentioned above, Escondido has approximately 919 year-round homeless beds (which are pigeon-holed into various categories - year round 44 bed homeless shelter for veterans, 10-bed emergency shelter that operates year round at ICS, alcohol rehab, drug rehab, battered women, families, apartments for men, women, families, etc.). These are ALL homeless beds, and without them these people would be homeless.

Remember the Serenity House takeover of the Sheridan Hotel on North Centre City Parkway? At the time they only had 33 women needing help, but the facility now boasts over 150 beds - all full! Seems we have imported many people to Escondido for our very generous services here.

Compare that to Poway, which has a whopping 0 beds. San Marcos, Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Carlsbad has 0. Escondido contributed $4+ million dollars over the past 5 years. Well more than ANY other city in the whole county, except San Diego.

Now Interfaith wants a permanent winter shelter (Seems like almost every year I have been on the council they come to us with a request and EVERY YEAR WE HAVE ADDED BEDS.) So this is the usual MO.

In 2004, ICS promised the city that with the addition of Merle's Place shelter they would not have a winter shelter except the rotational one that operates every year. However, when Merle's place was not ready, they came back and PROMISED it would only be “this one last time.” They wanted a C.U.P. (Conditional Use Permit) change, but we did not allow that. The council unanimously voted to approve the temporary winter shelter until Merle's Place was ready, with the agreement from ICS that there would NOT be another emergency shelter. Now they came back five days before Christmas again, breaking their promise.

There are also zoning issues. Interfaith was relocated a few years ago from East Valley Parkway because of impacts on the business corridor and impacts on the nearby residences. The Center City Parkway location is on our main business loop. The Salvation Army sits next to a car lot business, a senior citizen complex, a newly revamped condominium complex where people have just bought their first homes and is directly accross the street from the Von's/CVS Pharmacy center. Behind, off Morning View Drive are senior citizen apartments and the Terraces apartment complexes. We already know what the impacts of having a shelter are on this type of area. Why would we consider creating that situation for this business district? Allowing a Conditional Use Permit is a zoning issue that should not be taken lightly and will stay with the property until revoked. As we know, the politics of removing any C.U.P. is difficult!

There are also public safety issues, the fact that the city has not been able to address/solve the problem of transients taking over Grape Day Park during the day and the constant, constant, constant complaints about transients doing/dealing drugs and having sex in the park.

The council also receives lots of comments from citizens who live in the city and are concerned that they do not feel safe in their neighborhoods or taking their children to the public parks. Just pumping gas in downtown Escondido leads to getting pan-handled more than you would like. Grand Avenue has a daily showing of transients, many who choose to be homeless, walking back and forth or sitting on the benches waiting for the library to open at 10 a.m.

Most of the people who cry to open additional shelters do not even live in the city limits, and many e-mails we received came from Poway and San Marcos. They do not have to bear the burden on public services, like police and other costs, or the non-monetary costs, like the loss of viable city parks and facilities. The council has to represent ALL of its constituents.

That is why we would like to see a regional approach. This might take organizations other than ICS and that is probably what they don't like. Escondido has enjoyed a long history with Interfaith, but our city cannot take on the burden of all the North County. If the regional task force is formed again, it can lobby other churches in Poway, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista, Encinitas, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fallbrook to join the rotational shelter program. As it is now, five of the seven churches in the rotational program are in Escondido. If the rotational plan expanded to include churches all over North County, there would be safe, warm places to homeless people and no one would be left out in the cold.

We are indeed a very compassionate city. I feel strongly we need to help those who are down and out, but there is a limit. My goal as a councilperson has been to bring Escondido into balance. With the lowest median income, we keep falling behind and will not turn this trend around unless we stop importing poverty and work to raise our median income, fight gangs, crime, drugs, illegal immigration and creating healthy, safe neighborhoods and thriving business districts."

PfeilerEscondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler: "There are two sides of the shelter issue to consider; one is the programmatic issue - most of these 777 beds are committed to existing programs. The other is inclement weather. The community needs to provide warm shelter from December 15th through March 15th. I made the motion that we establish a regional task force and enlist the support of other North County cities to provide their fair share of housing. I’m glad to see Sam is following up on the issue I raised. We have structured this week’s item carefully for affirmative support from council members as to continued housing for our homeless people. It is true that the Interfaith Community Center cannot have an inclement weather shelter. Still, the need was there and the Salvation Army wanted to open a shelter. They knew that Interfaith could not open a shelter this year but they thought they might be able to. Somebody needs to do something. Until the rest of the North County cities come on board in a regional effort, we need to ensure that homeless folks are not sleeping in the cold."

Escondido as the largest north county inland city seems to take its homeless issues seriously. It consistently supports an emergency winter shelter and numerous other homeless services.

Escondido has a population of 140,766 and encompasses 36.2 square miles.

Escondido is addressing homelessness this year with a budget of $956,931. This is 37.1 percent, the highest of all funds spent by the local jurisdictions. With only 5.5 percent of the population this works out to be $6.81 per resident. The city offers a wide spectrum of homeless programs, including assistance to victims of domestic violence and families with children. They also support health services and food programs offered to the general homeless population.

San Marcos has granted $11,651 to homeless services this year. This is their fifth direct allocation to homeless assistance that has been reported in this study. This represents 0.5 percent of funds spent by local jurisdictions. Vista is addressing homelessness this year with $93,500. This ranks fourth among the local cities. The allocation has been granted to supportive services, transitional shelter for families and a winter shelter program. With 3.7 percent of the population this works out to be $0.99 per resident. Santee has budgeted $6,500 with 2.1 percent Oceanside has budgeted $524,803 for a wide variety of facilities and services. This is 20.3 percent of all funds spent by local jurisdictions except the City and County of San Diego. With almost seven percent of the county’s population their per capita amount is at $3.03. Shelter programs include emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing. Other services include support for women with children, youth on their own, families, those who suffer from mental illness, and victims of domestic violence.

The funding referenced covers a variety of services and shelters including permanent supportive housing programs. Funds benefit urban homeless persons as well as homeless farm workers and day laborers. They also assist families with children and victims of domestic violence.

DesmondSan Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond: “If you only compare the number of beds for the homeless that San Marcos provides then we fall far below par; however, that does not tell the whole story. San Marcos provides a preventative program. As our population increases our number of homeless persons decreases. Why? Because we offer 3000 affordable housing units, 11% of our total housing inventory, whereas Escondido, Oceanside, and Vista provide only 2% of affordable housing. Further, of our 11%, 46% is available to those below the poverty level. In addition, we have provided funding support for the homeless population:

$22000 2004-05 fiscal year
$64000 2005-06
$55000 2006-07

Certainly we would be responsive to discussions about a regional approach and would be willing to be part of that solution."

Both Mike Preston and fellow San Marcos Councilmember Hal Martin said almost the same thing:

PrestonSan Marcos Councilmember Mike Preston: "We agree that other North County cities need to address the issuesMartin of rehab and domestic violence as well as homelessness. However, San Marcos has provided funding for both Escondido and Vista in support of their efforts in this area.

Every community should be providing those beds. However, we think Escondido is wrong in trying to say they are doing more than other cities. Every city has that need. Escondido is one of the larger cities so the comparison, based on size alone, is not a valid one. San Marcos, for so many years, had a small population. It made no sense to make a housing allocation then. Perhaps the time has come to reevaluate it. We think that rather than re-invent the wheel, perhaps we are better off supporting an existing site or service, rather than start a new one. To that end we continue to support both Escondido and Vista in this area. That being said, we are more than willing to sit down and discuss the regional support idea and to participate in a regional solution.

We do think it’s poor policy to tell the Salvation Army they can’t open a shelter that doesn’t cost anything from the city and then point the finger at other cities and say it’s their fault. But regional planning and operations is good government and good planning. We’ll take a look at it."

As of press time newly elected Councilmember Chris Orlando had not returned our calls requesting comment.

For her part, Suzanne Pohlman, Executive Director of Interfaith Community Services, issued an “Open Letter to the Community” extracts of which appear below:

"A misconception exists that Interfaith Community Services gave little option to the City Council by waiting until the eleventh hour to plan a regional shelter. Nothing could be further from the truth

Interfaith consistently invited other agencies, city and county representatives, service providers and faith communities to our monthly membership meetings to discuss winter shelter needs. As a result of this collaboration, a special task force was created in 2004 specifically to address the issue of organizing and implementing winter shelters to serve the homeless of North County.

Although the task force did not succeed in continuing to operate an inland emergency winter shelter, new beds were opened in the North County outside of Escondido. (Approximately 330 new beds were listed).

Despite these additional beds in the coastal and midland North County areas, there still remains a need for an emergency winter shelter in the inland community. Winter shelters in neighboring cities do not alleviate the need in Escondido, since most homeless people do not have the financial means for public transportation, nor do they own cars. Furthermore, migration is rarely a viable option; many of the homeless are under-employed and are unable to afford housing, consequently, their limited employment requires that they stay locally. Most homeless in Escondido have significant ties here, whether Escondido is their hometown, their city of employment, or the location of their family or faith center.

In the past four years the number of inclement weather emergency shelter beds in Escondido has decreased, on an average of 20% each year. In 2002 Interfaith operated a winter shelter at the National Guard Armory, serving up to 120-plus people each night for the duration of winter. In 2003, the capacity decreased to accommodate 100 individuals. With the onset of war in 2003-2004, military priorities and cost made this facility unavailable; this change initiated the move of the winter shelter to Interfaith's headquarters, located on West Washington and Quince, dropping the number of beds down to 80. In 2004-2005, again operating from our headquarters, Interfaith sheltered up to 50 homeless individuals each night.

Interfaith was elated when the Salvation Army finally received corporate approval to approach the Council with a request to operate a temperature-triggered shelter. But while we waited for the Council's decision, the freezing weather put lives in immediate jeopardy. In response to this emergency circumstance, Interfaith opened our Nutrition Center for several nights; this decision was not meant to defy or manipulate the Council, or undermine the process, but only to save lives under extreme emergency circumstances.

For over 25 years, Interfaith has had a long-standing and respectful collaborative-partnership with the City of Escondido. It is imperative that we together, as a compassionate community, permit the operation of a temperature-activated shelter. Interfaith applauds and endorses the City Council's suggestion to re-activate a collaborative North County Regional Task Force. We pledge our support and resources to aid that endeavor."

Pohlman, aware that some of the council members were upset with her personally for what developed into a contentious meeting, went on to say, “it was desperately cold and people needed to be sheltered. So we did what was humane and we slept a minimal number of persons here where it was warm and dry . . . and in no way was this meant to be in anyone’s face or disrespecful to the council. We saw it as a simple need to protect people who were desperate.”

We contacted Mel Takahara, Director of After School Challenge Youth Department to get his perspective on the current controversy:

Mel Takahara: "We were not pulled into any situation . . . when we became aware of the need for a shelter at our Salvation Army advisory board meeting a number of years ago we had planned on providing this service. I then learned that Interfaith had been doing an excellent job by addressing this need so we sought other areas to minister to the community; however, when I learned from Suzanne Pohlman that there was a need to fill a void once their facilities became dedicated to Merle’s Place . . . my response was, ‘thank you for the second chance. We could now do what we had done for centuries. I’m very much committed to providing that service in that tradition and would welcome doing that in partnership with Interfaith Community Services."

kittensAnd so there, for the moment, is where the matter rests.

There have been some bruised feelings, some angry comments made, but some signs toward a possible resolution. Other North County cities have indicated a willingness to discuss a regional solution to the homeless problem, apologies have been made . . . and one hopes the problem will sort itself out.

As for the homeless feral cats? Well, we spoke with the lovely lady who cares for them and suggested the cats be spayed and home found for them . . . and that she not continue to put food out for them.

That was done.

The cat problem disappeared. Would that it could be so easy with human problems.

Number of Beds Reported for North County:

Local Jurisdiction # of Beds
San Marcos






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