Some $1.4 million of $2 million targeted to address homelessness in Escondido went to the city’s police department rather than homelessness services, according to a city staff report released last month.
The money that specifically comes from the city’s general fund came under fire from some residents at a February 15, 2023 city council meeting, according to the Voice of San Diego.
“We keep seeing the police budget continue to increase, but we also see homelessness continue to increase,” said Escondido resident Alex Garvin at a City Council meeting last week. “I don’t think it’s the right tool for the job, and I don’t think it ever will be.”
At that meeting, the Escondido City Council heard a staff report about how the city is addressing its growing homelessness crisis. The report detailed how much the city allocated toward homelessness efforts last year and how those funds were spent.
The report noted that, aside from the $2 million in city money, Escondido also received $10.2 million in grants and federal funding to address homelessness. That money went toward homelessness prevention programs, permanent supportive housing projects and emergency shelter efforts.
Still, the report was met with criticism from public speakers at the Feb. 15 meeting who questioned why 70 percent of the city’s own homelessness dollars went toward the Escondido Police Department when the police department’s budget is already the largest portion of the city’s overall budget by far.
Voice of San Diego writer Tigist Layne specified how the $2 million in city funding to address homelessness broke down:
The city pushed $643,000 to its Public Works Department for things like debris cleanup, damage repair and outreach, all specifically related to homelessness.
The rest of the money – about $1.4 million – went to the Escondido Police Department’s Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving unit, or COPPS. These officers respond to calls for service that often involve homeless people.
When responding to calls, COPPS officers prioritize offering support services and resources for those experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health needs. They also work to identify areas in the city where these services are most needed.
The department receives 15 to 20 calls per day on “homeless related issues,” said the report, and about 13 percent of police crime reports involved homeless people – in other words, of the 11,200 police crime reports filed last year, 1,400 of them involved homeless individuals.
The city also had $60,000 in expenses for the Housing and Neighborhood Services Division staff, which applies for grant funding, manages distribution of grants and works with service providers. But those funds were covered through county and federal grants.
Last fiscal year, the police department had a $49 million budget. This fiscal year, the department is budgeted at almost $53 million.
Meanwhile, Escondido has the second-largest unsheltered homeless population in North County, according to last year’s Point-in-Time Count, with 182 unsheltered homeless people. There were also 317 sheltered homeless people, according to the count.
Local service providers expect to see an increase in those numbers once the results of the 2023 homeless census are released around May.
Homeless service providers in North County agree that the number of homeless people seeking shelter and services is increasing rapidly, but the amount of available funding and help from North County’s cities has remained stagnant.
Interfaith Community Services CEO Greg Anglea said at the meeting that Interfaith’s shelters helped 430 unique individuals last year and helped prevent homelessness for 152 households.
But despite these positive outcomes, he said, there is currently no shelter available for someone on the streets in Escondido. There is also no room in any treatment programs or detox facilities, he added.
“Our outreach workers, our trained mental health clinicians and our pure engagement specialists … they’re out there every day building relationships with people for whom there is no room at the inn, for whom there is no place for them to go tonight,” Anglea said. “We have a long way to go.”
Carlos Ramirez with Escondido Education COMPACT also spoke at the meeting about the need for more preventative services.
The nonprofit used to have an initiative called Families First that provided homeless prevention services to Escondido families who have youth in their home between the ages of 10 to 18. In 2021, federal funding allowed the initiative to help 54 families or 216 individuals.
This fiscal year, that funding wasn’t available because of changes in funding allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Between July 2022, and Feb. 2023, Families First received and screened 114 referrals of families who are at risk of homelessness, but without a new source of funding, those families cannot be enrolled in the program.
Councilmember Mike Morasco said Escondido is dedicating a lot of effort to dealing with the homelessness crisis and is doing a lot more to address homelessness than many other cities in North County.
He added that each piece of the effort, including the police, is an integral and important part of addressing homelessness.
Councilmember Consuelo Martinez also pointed out that there are other resources available in the county and region besides the police, but those resources, many of which are in their early stages of development, can quickly become overwhelmed, and it becomes the police department’s responsibility to step up.
Escondido Mayor Dane White ultimately agreed that there needs to be more resources including detox facilities, residential care facilities and permanent supportive housing.
“The fact of the matter is, the numbers keep going up, but the number of services remain the same,” White said.
He proposed establishing a city council subcommittee dedicated to homelessness efforts and asked staff to bring recommendations back to the council.