La Mesa is on the right path with building HOME

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Homeless Encampment Under the City

People Assisting the Homeless or PATH, a non-profit that works to find homeless individuals permanent housing, assist with healthcare, advocate for benefits and provide employment training has released their three-year plan toward ending homelessness in communities across California.

As part of their three-year plan, PATH seeks to house 6,000 homeless individuals; build or renovate 1,000 new homes; and provide services such as food, outreach, interim housing and employment assistance to an additional 75,000 individuals.

Those three-year goals carry local meaning because the city of La Mesa has been partnering with PATH locally while developing their own Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement program, called HOME.

The La Mesa HOME program is based on a Eugene, Oregon program that dispatches an outreach worker and a mental health clinician on non-emergency police calls. So far La Mesa has been relying on PATH workers for those calls, taking lessons from them to integrate into their HOME program later this year.

PATH’s services support nearly 20 percent of the state’s population experiencing homelessness and the group has helped more than 11,800 people move into permanent homes over the past eight years.

Spearheaded by La Mesa Police Capt. Matt Nicholass, the HOME program is developmental and flexible— lessons learned over the first year in utilizing the PATH outreach group will pave the way for similar, permanent positions based out of the La Mesa Police Department beginning late 2021.

“We want to get the people that are homeless, housed and we’ve tapped into PATH’s services to help us develop our HOME program,” Nicholass said.

La Mesa Police Department has now been partnering with PATH for roughly three months, since La Mesa launched the first phase of their program in which an outreach worker and a mental health clinician have been dispatched on non-emergency police calls.

A quarterly report from October through December 2020 revealed 110 calls for service were routed through La Mesa Police dispatch. Those 110 calls which would previously have been addressed by city emergency response service units were instead handled by trained social service outreach workers.

“We connected 85 homeless individuals with services in January. Also, of the 22 newly enrolled clients, 15 have been moved into shelter,” Nicholass said.

In La Mesa, Nicholass said a total of 26 individuals were sheltered over the past three and a half months, roughly half of the 52 persons counted during the 2020 Point in Time count, a snapshot of how many unsheltered people are living on the street during one night of the year.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 related health concerns, the in-person Point in Time count is not being held in 2021, although statistical data gathered by social service agencies is being used to reconstruct that data as best as possible.

Still, if La Mesa’s unsheltered homeless count holds relatively steady from 2020 and the city continues to house unsheltered individuals at their current rate of success, they would drastically reduce that count within the local municipality before the end of 2021.

“There’s still a number who choose not to take the assistance so we continue dialogue daily to see if they’ll take the help. It takes time with some of them,” Nicholass said.

Nicholass attributed current success in part to utilizing methods learned from PATH, including daily interaction with homeless individuals in the area, a technique he said helps build communication and trust between outreach workers and homeless individuals who will hopefully accept help when they feel ready to do so.

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