East County to receive $2 million to solve rampant homelessness

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Last week, the East County Homeless Task Force (ECHTF) had its monthly meeting in Lakeside, choosing this location for the first time since its inception after being invited by the local chamber of commerce. More than 100 people representing different organizations and volunteers involved in solving homelessness gathered to share data and find solutions.

Eric J. Lund, Director of the ECHFT and CEO of the East County Chamber of Commerce announced that East County will receive $2 million out of the $18.8 million state funding for San Diego County to solve the homelessness problem.

Last week, the East County Homeless Task Force (ECHTF) had its monthly meeting in Lakeside, choosing this location for the first time since its inception after being invited by the local chamber of commerce. More than 100 people representing different organizations and volunteers involved in solving homelessness gathered to share data and find solutions.

Eric J. Lund, Director of the ECHFT and CEO of the East County Chamber of Commerce announced that East County will receive $2 million out of the $18.8 million state funding for San Diego County to solve the homelessness problem.

“Money will come in the next year to the Regional Homeless Task Force and will be directed to all the service providers,” said Lund.

Based on the 2018 Point-in-Time-Count, there are 1,087 homeless people in East County. Among them, only 419 are sheltered. Lund said the state funding will be mainly spent on housing.

“Once we get them into housing and then connect them with services, that really solves the problem about 90 percent of the time,” he said.

One way to provide housing for the homeless is through subsidized vouchers for renting. Lund said he recognizes the lack of affordable rental units, “but I know we have 1,000 rental units in East County for sure. We need to get renters themselves to understand that we have ways to mitigate any damage somebody does and things like that and that these people tend to be very good people once they get into a place because they appreciate it so much.”

Lund said the money would also help fund food and mental health services for the homeless.

ECHTF gathered more than 300 volunteers working on 10 self-directed project teams that are focusing on working on food and shelter, youth, reunification, dealing with mental illness, law enforcement and veterans, among other issues. The Reunification Program succeeded this year to reconnect 13 homeless people with their families nationwide and get them off the street. The program is coordinated by the East County Salvation Army and Lund hopes it will expand countywide.

This year, the county increased the budget by $8.2 million for Project One For All addressing mental health issues among the homeless population.

One of the county partners present at the meeting was Alpha Project, a newly formed non-profit organization contracted to provide service to the homeless people who face mental health issues.

Jennifer Sailler is working with two mental health clinics in East County that provide referrals to Alpha Project.

“The caveat to obtaining our services is that the individual must be seeking treatment for a mental health illness because that’s the most common denominator among the homeless population,” said Sailler. She added that her organization provides “on going case management, housing navigation and peer support that never expires. It just lessens in intensity over time.”

The case management is based on the person’s needs and it could be applying for SSI, job search, practicing interviewing skills, meeting them at the job interview or “giving them a coffee and a hug.”

Matthew Philben, President of the Anthem Real Estate Ventures, owns several housing projects throughout San Diego County providing homes to veterans and other people with special needs that live in the streets.

Philben thinks this kind of meeting is helping to diagnose and gather data about the situation.

“The challenge will be delivering the actual housing units that are at a price low enough that people can afford,” he said.

He said not all housing programs work because some of them impose “unrealistic parameters either in the payment standards or in the regulatory burdens placed on property owners who would otherwise want to participate.”

Philben is now fighting with the city of Lemon Grove to keep a 16-unit building remodeled to house homeless veterans because of lack of community support.

“They definitely don’t want the types of special needs population that I serve in their community,” said Philben.

Raising awareness is another priority on the ECHTF agenda.

“Seventy-five percent of the homeless people in San Diego come from your communities,” said Lund. “Most of the people who are homeless in Lakeside come from Lakeside.”

This meeting is the first attempt to gather the community and see what could be done to eradicate the homelessness in the area, considering there is a lot of opposition to the idea of housing them in town. Lakeside has no notable services for the homeless, excepting the local churches who provide donations. Moreover, there are homeless campgrounds on the riverbed in Lakeside causing issues with pollution and safety.

Terry Burke-Eiserling is one of the very few locals volunteering with the ECHTF and she said she has been focusing on the youth for the past year.

“I love our young people and don’t want them to be chronically homeless,” she said. “I want them to get jobs and finish school.”  Burke said the youth team within ECHTF is now working on a “drop in” center in El Cajon that will allow homeless youth to have a place to drop into in the late afternoon and evening hours where there would be resources that could be shared with them about where they can get services from.

Asked about potential help for Lakeside youth, Burke said, “There isn’t anything directly happening for Lakeside. I am not quite sure what the solution for that is right now.”

The community is invited to participate in the Housing Affordability Regional Workshop focused on East County at the Lakeside Community Center on September 6 at 6:00 p.m.

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