Oceanside approves emergency measures to clean up homeless camps

By on April 8, 2021 0

Oceanside City Council unanimously approved a motel emergency voucher program and anti-camping ordinance this week, both effective immediately and targeting the tent communities growing along South Boulevard Oceanside and elsewhere.

The two actions are designed to work together, staff members said. If the city can provide the homeless with an available bed and support services, it can ask them to “camp, sleep, sit, lie down and store personal belongings” in public places if they refuse to leave. .

Posting of the required 48-hour notices began in the camps on Thursday morning, City Manager Deanna Lorson said via email.

“There will be no criminal citations issued until the person has been offered shelter and / or a motel voucher,” she said. The city’s homeless outreach team, made up of police officers and social workers, will provide a range of housing options and other services to people.

“The goal of the program is to help the homeless and mitigate impacts on the community,” said Megan Crooks, interim director of neighborhood services, ahead of the city council vote on Wednesday. “It’s a temporary accommodation solution … The idea is to find permanent solutions for individuals.”

Oceanside residents and business leaders widely praised this effort, calling it very necessary and a step in the right direction. A few people, including occupants of the homeless camp who called the council meeting by phone, said the effort was misguided and insufficient.

“It’s not dignified, it’s coercion,” said Nicholas Webber, an advocate who volunteers to help the homeless.

Another advocate said homeless people feared they would not be allowed to receive visitors to their motel rooms and that smoking would be banned on properties. She compared the motels to “solitary confinement”. A homeless man who called said the town’s actions were “just a band-aid on a gushing gunshot wound.”

Another interlocutor, Chip Steel, said he was 34 years old, had been homeless for six years and had suffered “a lot of violence”, including a recent beating.

“A lot of us here on the streets have mental issues,” he said, and they choose to live outside with a community of like-minded people, although crime and drugs are common. common.

Most residents and business people called the city’s effort a good start.

“The actions you are considering tonight are a display of genuine compassion,” said Scott Ashton, Managing Director of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. He said the program will help homeless people “on the road to wellness”.

“Thank you for working together to find human solutions,” said Leslee Gaul, Managing Director of Visit Oceanside, which represents the region’s hospitality industry. “Many of our homeless have reached a point where they are unable to improve their situation without support and intervention.”

Another caller, Joshua Youngerman, said temporary assistance was good, but the city needed to take a longer-term view.

Homelessness often stems from the addition of drugs, and the city has done little to address the problem, Youngerman said. Instead, the city has legalized the marijuana businesses and is helping them expand.

“We are investing money in access to marijuana when we should be investing in homelessness,” Youngerman said.

Several people said the shopping malls closest to the homeless camps had suffered. Marc Eynon, who lives near Fire Mountain, said that while having lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant he saw drug trafficking, prostitution and aggressive beggars, and many people won’t go. more.

“It’s a serious problem,” Eynon said. “We have to do something about it.”

Council member Peter Weiss said he would support the city’s actions, but after speaking with some of the homeless residents and their advocates, he realized that some of them might not wanting help.

“They choose to live in these circumstances,” Weiss said. “We may not understand it, but they do.”

He suggested that the city provide a secure site with sanitation and other services for the homeless who choose to live in tents. Council member Kori Jensen said she agreed with the idea.

“Maybe a small village or a project like that for people who just don’t want help or who are happy in their current situation,” Jensen said. “It could also be an option.”

Mayor Esther Sanchez disagreed, saying the city had committed $ 8 million to long-term efforts such as building social housing, securing temporary shelters, creating the homeless awareness of the police department and other services to help people get off the streets.

“It’s not a healthy situation to be in encampments,” Sanchez said. “I wish I didn’t have camps in Oceanside.”

Homelessness is not a crime, “and should not be,” said Council member Ryan Keim.

“Our goal is to help people move forward,” Keim said. “We need a tool to push and encourage these people to get help; that’s the spirit of this.

Council member Christopher Rodriguez said homelessness is not a crime, but homeless people must obey the laws.

“We are a law enforcement company,” Rodriguez said. “They have to get off the street and get into a warm, cozy bed and … if they don’t want to, we can be okay with disagreeing.”

The South Oceanside Boulevard tent camp has received increasing attention since around February, when one of the residents, Rodney McGough, began organizing an effort to keep the area clean. Since then, the camp’s population has grown steadily, with calls for the city to do something about the situation.

The six-month voucher program is expected to cost $ 632,630. About $ 600,000 of this money will initially be taken from the city’s general fund, but most of the money could be repaid through federal and state grants.

The McAlister Institute, which operates the North Coast Regional Recovery Center in Oceanside, will oversee the voucher program under a contract not to exceed $ 95,000. McAlister will examine guests and monitor room cleanliness, personal hygiene, and attendee health.

The city plans to rent up to 30 motel rooms in blocks of 10, and those referred to the program could stay there for up to about three weeks at a time. Meals adapted to the dietary needs of participants will be delivered from restaurants and delicatessens.

Staff on site will work with guests to make sure they are following the rules and to help them get into long-term accommodation. Anyone who does not follow the rules will be forced to leave.

The anti-camping ordinance adopted by the council amends an earlier chapter of the city’s municipal code concerning illegal camps. The new ordinance was drafted to comply with a court ruling in Martin v. City of Boise, which concluded that a city cannot prohibit sleeping in a public place when there is no space available in a shelter.

The new ordinance also prohibits sitting or lying on public sidewalks in any way that obstructs pedestrians or blocks vehicle traffic.

Camping on private property is prohibited without the written consent of the owner.

The most recent county-wide annual Point-in-Time Count showed Oceanside had 242 unsheltered individuals, although the number varies widely depending on season, sources and other circumstances.

Diehl writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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