A few days after a prominent Escondido resident spoke passionately at a city council meeting about a homeless encampment behind the police and fire headquarters, officers moved to clear the area of both brush and the homeless.
New homeless population estimates are due to be released this week, but last year’s population estimate was about 532.
Patti Thompson, who writes “The Escondido Advocate” column for this paper, spoke during the public forum section of the city council meeting on April 5. She also got the attention of the public through social media as well as calling several local TV stations.
Two days later, on Friday, April 7, the “encampment” was cleaned up, for the first time in four years.
Thompson commented in her Escondido Friends Facebook page on the day of the clean-up, “In the week and a half alone, I discovered we only have 30 city workers who clean the city. Five police in a unit that deal directly with the Homeless. The area Encampment was just cleaned up this morning and the residents say it’s been 4 years since it was cleaned. However, the city has a long log of clean ups as early as 6 months ago but has not been fenced so the same people move back in and are stealing from residents, hoarding trash and belongings they feel are not trash. It is an ongoing serious cycle our City officials need to find a solution for.”
Although Escondido’s homeless population hovers over around 500 most of the time, they become more noticeable when the weather warms up. Reportedly about 50 homeless persons, or 10% of that population cause the most problems, and are responsible for vandalizing, stealing (from the public and from each other) defecating and harassing people who use Escondido’s parks, especially Grape Day Park.
The majority keep to themselves, clean up their messes, and try to get out of the situation they are in.
Thompson, who did considerable research on her own, said, “The EPD (Escondido Police Department) offers them programs every time they have contact with them. Some take the help, and the other who are the repeat problems, do not ask for help, or take help. They eventually have to be arrested for the trouble they cause and they work their way through the system. As I understand it, they are on a first name basis with the officers because the EPD does care about their welfare. EPD doesn’t want to see someone in jail. They try to give them every opportunity for a hand up.”
Police recommend not feeding the homeless directly, but giving to Interfaith Services. Many local churches also provide assistance. They also advise against businesses feeding the homeless themselves, because that will encourage them to return and even camp out nearby.
There are an estimated 2,000 homeless in North County.
There are now three year-round shelters in North County. Interfaith operates one of them, Haven House in Escondido. In 2016 Interfaith served 253 homeless in Haven House.
Greg Anglea, executive director of Interfaith Community Services, last month told the city council that 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.”
At that meeting Anglea said the need is not more shelters. “We need more housing and more ways to help people get into that housing,” he said.
Patti Thompson plans to speak at the next city council meeting. She wrote on Facebook: “The next City Council meeting is April 26 at 4:30 p.m. I will be there to talk about the homeless issue, fencing and patrolling the problem areas. And ask the Mayor what his plan is to work with the 50 homeless that are constant problems for our businesses and parks. He needs to be a part of the plan.”
Interfaith Services is located at 550 W. Washington Ave. Escondido, CA 92025. Phone: 760-489-6380.
We asked the city for a comment about the recent clean-up but did not receive a reply by press time. If we get a comment in time for next week’s paper, we will print it.