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City Council says goodbye to Graham Mitchell

Outgoing City Manager Graham Mitchell (left), is honored by interim City Manager Jeffrey Epp and Mayor Sam Abed at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

The Escondido city council and various city employees and department heads Wednesday evening said goodbye to Graham Mitchell, who only worked as city manager for 18 months but made a big impact and lots of friends during that short time.

Jeffrey Epp, city attorney and interim city manager, told the group, “We do want to honor our city manager tonight. I’m here on behalf of our department heads. Graham is simply a genuinely nice guy . . . who has worked very hard to make Escondido the best place possible.”

Taking note of the fact that the departing city manager is color blind, which occasionally shows up in the socks he wears, Epp said, “The department heads got together and bought you a basket of socks. We wish to see you on TV perhaps wearing those socks.”

Mayor Sam Abed commented, “I wanted to take this moment to thank you for your trust in our community and for the hard work you have put in this one year and a  half  to make a difference.” Abed praised Mitchell’s “dedicated service to Escondido.”

Mitchell said, “I realized I have set the record for the shortest city manager’s tenure in Escondido. But I was actually able to get a room named after me: the Mitchell room.” He thanked his wife. “To be the spouse of a city manager is not easy, especially for the calls that you get sometimes during special events.”

He recognized Bernadette Bjork,  executive office coordinator; Kim Kogler, department assistant and Robin Ekblad, executive assistant to the city manager. “I don’t think people realize that these three women run the city of Escondido,” he said. “I wanted to express my gratitude and appreciation for your hard work and your support of me.”

He also thanked city staff. “It’s an amazing group that you have—some rock stars that give amazing service. We handle tragedies, like we have this afternoon, we handle the simple with grace and professionalism. Thank you, to the city council for giving me the opportunity to be your servant. It has been a privilege and a pinnacle of my career to be of service to Escondido.”

Update on homelessness

Greg Anglea, executive director of Interfaith Community Services, put on a different hat—that of president of the board of the Alliance for Regional Solutions—to give the Council an update on homeless and other services the Alliance provides.

The Alliance, created in 2006 to address a specific need, that of providing shelter for the homeless during an especially cold winter, has grown to address related issues. Its members include about 70 nonprofits and nine North County cities.

Anglea related how in 2006, “with the leadership of Escondido we created a coordinated system for winter shelters and standardized case management.”

The Alliance, he said, “has grown to do more. We had an opportunity to take on other big needs.”

Today the Alliance has five committees:

North County Food Policy Council— which seeks solutions to address the unmet food security needs of North County residents and to increase access to a secure and nutritionally quality food supply and food shed.

Behavioral Health Alliance—provides leadership and coordination of services amongst the providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment service to provide advocacy and problem-solving for of those with behavioral health issues.

North County Works—which identifies and tries to reduce barriers faced by the underemployed and unemployed by improving the connections between employment opportunities, job referral organizations and those seeking work.

Senior Action Alliance—Addresses the needs of the growing senior population by  coordinating the delivery of support and services available to seniors in North County.

Bridge Housing Network Committee—Which provides homeless individuals and families with safe haven during winter months and tools and motivation to move themselves towards self-sufficiency and an increased level of independent and responsible functioning.

2,000 homeless in North County

Homelessness remains a problem in North County, where there are about 2,000 homeless at last count, said Anglea. “What was once a winter shelter is now a bridge housing committee because they service them year around.” He noted that the homeless are not the same people cycling in and out of the shelters. “Only nine percent of the four hundred we served last year had been in the shelter before.”

There are now three year around shelters in North County. Interfaith operates one of them, Haven House in Escondido. In 2016 Interfaith served 253 homeless in Haven House. “Two hundred and forty exited the shelter,” he said. Of those, 71% went to stable housing and 91 people went to their own apartments.”

The biggest barriers to solving the homeless problem are addiction and mental health issues. “The shelters require sobriety and we had to turn away forty people last month because they didn’t meet that requirement,” said Anglea. The shelter Interfaith operates  is not, “hot and a cot. It’s a program to get you into a home.”

Escondido provided $33,000 last year to address the homeless problem and that together the nine cities provided over $200,000. “You have a remarkable group of non-profits and city partners working together,” he said.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz, commented on one slide Anglea showed: “This slide speaks to me because there are times when I feel that other cities need to do their fair share. This shows which ones are ignoring the problem, but missing is the County contribution.” She said there isn’t enough money spent “to address the root issue. It’s expensive to help people. Your funding isn’t necessarily stable. You need a formula that more closely follows the need. Generosity fluctuates so it’s hard to offer sustainable programming.”

Anglea said the need is not more shelters. “We need more housing and more ways to help people get into that housing,” he said.

Vice-Mayor John Masson asked what happens to the homeless who test positive for drugs. “Is there a resource to send them to?” he asked.

“No, there is no place for them to go. We provide them a sleeping bag,” said Anglea. He added that they are looking for a location where they can provide that service. “Because there is nowhere for them to go.”

Mayor Abed said the nine cities should share the cost of homelessness. “The reason San Marcos contributes $56,000 is because they don’t want to deal with the problem. Why don’t we have a homeless shelter in Oceanside and why not one in San Marcos?” He said one city shouldn’t bear the brunt. “I would urge you to remind those other cities they need to come up with some location.”

Abed added, “Every city in North County is pushing back on Escondido. They need to provide some leadership. We need to remind those cities that they need to provide shelter and shelter beds based on their population. The County should also provide more.”

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