After receiving no takers to run a proposed homeless shelter in the city, the Vista City Council is changing course and instead will pursue a safe parking lot for people who live in their vehicles.
Sylvia Solis Daniels, Vista’s housing programs manager, said three service providers had inquired about running a shelter, but none submitted a formal response to the city’s request for proposals by the time the 60-day window closed at the end of March.
Daniels said the city may pursue a shelter again sometime in the future, but its immediate focus is on creating permanent supportive housing and a safe parking lot. The City Council will discuss requests for proposals for the parking lot at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Vista owns 13 sites that could have been used for a shelter. Daniels said some are vacant lots and some have structures, but none have hotels or other types of buildings that could have been easily converted into a shelter, and the applicant would have had to identify a plan to make a site work.
“You’d be packaging a development project and a service project,” she said. “In hindsight, it was a heavy lift for any partner.”
Funding sources could have been identified for building a shelter, but not for its $2.5 million annual operating costs, she said.
That was one of the deal-breakers for Interfaith Community Services.
“Talking to city staff, they said, ‘We know we can’t afford to pay for 100 percent of the shelter, but we’ve talked to the county, and they were hopeful,’” said Greg Anglea, president and CEO of Interfaith. “But all of that was just too nebulous. None of it was clear. And unfortunately, the county does not appear to be making that commitment for operational funding for any additional shelters.”
While the county has committed to providing access to its behavioral health services and case management for any new shelter, Anglea said they’re not funding additional staff members for those services, and he fears existing staff would be stretched thin at new facilities.
“We believe the county needs to step up and provide additional services for new shelters, not just existing resources,” he said. “The existing resources will not be sufficient.”
Anglea said Interfaith was very interested in helping Vista open a shelter because he sees a pressing need for more beds to get homeless people off the street in North County.
“Right now in North County, we have 99 beds,” he said. “That’s pitiful when you have 1,400 homeless people in North County identified in the point-in-time count.”
Interfaith did bid to run Oceanside’s shelter, which is expected to open later this year, but the Oceanside City Council chose the San Diego Rescue Mission instead. Anglea said Interfaith bid for that shelter because the city had committed $700,000 in operational costs, and that money could help fund behavioral health services at the facility.
Daniels said the two other service providers that expressed interest in operating a Vista shelter were the San Diego Rescue Mission and Operation Hope. Neither submitted formal proposals, but for reasons different than Interfaith’s, she said.
Daniels said San Diego Rescue Mission President and CEO Donnie Dee said they were in the process of opening the Oceanside shelter and another in National City, so the timing wasn’t right to take on another. Operation Hope, which operates a shelter for women and families, also saw the timing as not right because they have a new executive director, she said. The move would have been a significant transition for Operation Hope, she added, because its shelter has restrictions on who it will take in, and the new shelter would have a low-barrier policy, meaning people are not turned away in most cases.
Daniels said the city is closer to opening a safe parking lot than a shelter, so that will be its next focus. She said the city also may apply for part of a $10 million grant the county is offering to cities to help open shelters, safe parking, safe campgrounds or related programs. Sites for the parking lots already have been identified, she said, and the county is prioritizing cities with near-ready plans in the grant program.
The city also plans to release requests for proposals to create permanent supportive housing this August, she said. Millions of dollars left over from the city’s redevelopment agency, which was dissolved by the state in 2012, and Vista is allowed to use the money for permanent supportive housing, Daniels said.