More than 4,350 East County residents received services to prevent or end their homelessness between June 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021. The East County Homeless Taskforce, along with community leaders will present one of its efforts being implemented to help women with children who are dealing with homelessness at Meridian Baptist Church on Saturday, Sept. 25 beginning at 1 p.m. Meridian Baptist Church will host six emergency sleeping cabins and the public is invited to find out more about the program and view a model emergency cabin home.
This project is a collaborative project between the ECHTF, Meridian Baptist Church, Amikas, and the city of El Cajon.
ECHTF Organizational Development Consultant Bonnie Baranoff said the ECHTF has a group of people on its steering committee that meets regularly to find and initiate advocacy for housing in East County.
“Amikas is an organization that started with these emergency sleeping cabins,” she said. “These cabins are kind of like tiny homes, except that they are for emergency use in where a jurisdiction or municipality will let emergency sleeping cabins to exist to help someone who is experiencing homelessness.”
Founded in 2009 by a small group of advocates, Amikas seeks to protect women, children and female veterans with a vision for every woman and child to have a safe place to live.
“Housing is a basic human necessity and should be considered a basic human right,” stated Shanna Welsh-Levin, president at Amikas in a press release. “There is no reason that a woman and child cannot be together with a roof over their heads.”
Baranoff said the church and the city partnered with Amikas three years ago to find solutions for women who are homeless with children and finding adequate shelter for them.
“These three entities have been working on this project for three years now, because they needed to amend the zoning code, getting the okay from the city of El Cajon,” she said. “They also had to ensure that programs like this, that there will be the services that go along with the structures, to make sure that it is not only housing they are getting, but the help that these folks need in getting out of emergency housing into permanent housing. Whatever that help might be.”
Baranoff said the project is in the final homestretch, with only some permitting left, until they can bring in the cabins, find the candidates, and get women and children housed.
San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Rick Wilson and ECHTF director said this partnership was possible by the help of several organizations and individuals, and that this program is taking the ECHTF to another level to a situation that has only been worsened by the pandemic.
“This event, is another indication of the ECHTF going in the right direction, partnering with people throughout the county to make sure we are working to help and make a major positive impact on the homelessness population. Not only in East County, but throughout San Diego County,” said Wilson.
The ECHTF is a community based program of the nonprofit San Diego East County Chamber Foundation. Wilson said this came about five years ago after cities, residents and businesses in East County reached out to the Chamber about the issues of homelessness they were having.
Wilson said this collaboration and the hard working people that made it happen is making a difference, one person, one family at a time.
“I know that we have not arrived, but we are in such a better place than we were a couple of years ago to really make a difference in what was happening,” he said. “The list is pretty endless of the groups that we are working with. The Chamber’s position is trying to be that leader in the community as the holder of it, but it is really these groups and these individuals that are helping the situation. The event is going to be awesome because this is the first of multiple projects that we are working to do in order to get more exposure and more participation.”
Wilson said housing is the most important part of combatting homelessness.
“When you find yourself in this type of situation and you are looking to find a way out of it, there really is no safe place to go,” he said. “Whether it be detoxing, decompressing, the stress of living on the street, whatever the situations is, when you look at the cabins, it is another opportunity for people to have an opportunity for shelter and housing while they are trying to get their lives back in order with the help of resources in the right direction. The whole concept is fantastic because it is looking for solutions.”
Wilson said in the beginning, when he started talking to people and cities on what they wanted to accomplish, the conversation began and has now moved forward. He said working with cities, all they really want to know is what they can do to help and what their dollars are going towards, but now it has all cities onboard, multiple nonprofits and faith ministries working together to be a solution to the problem.
“Over the past year and a half, all the cities are onboard, working with the city of El Cajon initially,” said Wilson. “We have had meetings with them and multiple organizations to figure it out. They want to buy hotels, apartments complexes and turning them around into homeless housing complexes. There is a drive, a want, and a need, and everyone is trying to figure out the finances. The county of San Diego, the cities of El Cajon, Santee, Lemon Grove, and La Mesa, they are all on the same page on how we can do this and are collaborating to find the best solutions. These cabins are a wonderful step in the right direction.”
Meridian Baptist Church is located at 660 S 3rd St., El Cajon.