La Mesa plans homeless outreach through 2026

Homeless Encampment Under the City

The city of La Mesa unanimously approved a measure to adopt the 2021-2026 Homeless Action Plan and to implement phase two of the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement, or HOME initiative.

During the Feb. 23 city council meeting La Mesa Police Capt. Matt Nicholass, who is spearheading the HOME program said it “pulls officers off of having to deal with social issues that are non-criminal in nature” and gives a responding individual time to fill gaps between social services.

“We want to take the uniformed officer presence off as much as possible and send someone with a social service background,” Nicholass said. In doing so the department reduces the cost of hours dedicated by police and fire department officers as well as reduce the cost of social service programs.

Utilizing Community Block Development Grant funding, the city has been partnering with People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, for the past three months to gain insight necessary for creating permanent positions within the La Mesa HOME program.

Under the partnership, Nicholass said, 110 calls for service 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, giving extensive credit to PATH employees Mike Judd and Matthew Smiley.

He also said a hotline is being successfully used by the city of La Mesa rather than routing calls through police dispatch lines and being able to immediately transport an individual to services using a recently acquired van rather than police vehicles has been extremely effective.

However, to keep work effectively moving forward through a shift from the outsourced PATH group to La Mesa’s internal HOME program, “we need partnerships with council, with the community and with regional partners,” Nicholass said.

“I think it is important, as funding becomes available, that we’re not scrambling to create a program but already have a successful program in place,” Mayor Mark Arapostathis said.

Vice Mayor Akelah Weber said she was impressed with the progress so far and noted  that homeless families are often initially identified at schools. She asked program organizers to reach out to La Mesa-Spring Valley school district to better connect them with the homeless outreach program and available services in the future.

Before city council voted to continue the plan through 2026, Council Member Colin Parent suggested that the next step after addressing homelessness is addressing affordable housing in the community.