La Mesa mulls multiple homeless initiatives

Lothian’s bid to export homeless housing goes nowhere

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The La Mesa City Council on Tuesday accepted and filed the first quarterly Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement report of 2022. The HOME program is a shared initiative between the city and La Mesa Police Department which provides a trauma-informed, housing-first approach to addressing homelessness in La Mesa.

Between January and March 2022, 48 adults and two children were newly enrolled, Police Chief Ray Sweeney stated in his report. Additionally, 16 of the individuals contacted during the quarter were connected with a temporary or permanent home.

HOME outreach workers responded to 617 service calls during the first quarter which, before the program was developed, would have been handled by law enforcement and emergency response providers.

According to Sweeney’s report, the HOME team also acquired a van during the first quarter to transport homeless residents and their belongings more efficiently, especially those who have disabilities or are experiencing mobility issues. The van also facilitates the HOME team delivering food, clothes and hygiene supplies to people.

Later in the meeting, City Council discussed a Memorandum of Understanding put forth by county supervisor Joel Anderson, who represents East County, to the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Santee. That MOU calls on individual cities and the county to each identify and facilitate emergency and permanent housing along with supportive systems in an effort to reduce homelessness throughout East County.

Working together under the MOU would allow the cities to pool funds for staffing and resources with an end goal of creating shelter space accessible by all parties.

“The county has the largest role to identify potential locations for low-barrier housing and facilities for on-site services,” Assistant City Manager Carlo Tomaino said, and involved cities have agreed to support that effort by issuing an RFP to identify potential sites suitable for emergency housing as well as a qualified operator.

City Council member Laura Lothian confirmed with staff that shelters could also be located in unincorporated San Diego county such as Lakeside or unincorporated El Cajon.

During public comments homeless advocate and La Mesa resident Bonnie Baranoff said individualized attempts by each city and the county have not created enough tangible opportunities for temporary or permanent housing.

“Someone’s housing status is not a crime— throwing someone in jail for a few hours doesn’t mean they will miraculously have a house. Whether we like it or not, homelessness exists in every East County community and every state of this great nation,” Baranoff said, urging the committee to approve the MOU.

Unanimously, city council approved staff to sign the MOU.

Opening a third discussion on homeless solutions, Lothian brought a motion for city staff to explore purchasing former U.S. Army facility Camp Lockett, located in Campo, for $5.3 million and redevelop the site as a homeless shelter.

“If we’re serious about wanting to help a high number of homeless people we should consider not building in a high-density area,” Lothian said.

The site, Lothian said, is far more affordable than the same space would be in La Mesa, and includes several barracks, a church, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post, room for animals and farming, a Californian Border Patrol station and multiple individual buildings.
Several Campo residents called in and derided the idea of placing people in an area with a sheriff’s station that closes at night, far from services and with few jobs to be had.

“If you don’t have any support for homeless, you’re not solving the problem. Unless you have a plan to build a hospital, multiple fire stations, a grocery store, you’re just taking a problem from La Mesa and moving it out of sight, out of mind,” Campo resident Tina Reyes said.

La Mesa residents also said there are not enough resources in the area— Janet Castaños said the site, roughly 50 miles from La Mesa, requires a two-hour bus ride according to Google maps and is nowhere near hospitals, substance abuse programs, schools, or behavioral health services.

“There are very few people and very few resources there. I’ve actually been to this site and we need to solve our problems by addressing them, not shipping them out to other people,” La Mesa resident Andy Trimlett said.

Lothian’s motion to have city staff explore the idea and report back did not receive a second.

La Mesa mulls multiple homeless initiatives