Scary Brush Fire Reignites Homeless Debate in Oceanside

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A fast-moving brush fire scorched three acres of riverbed just feet away from the Oceanside Harbor Tuesday morning. The flames were so intense Amtrak shut down rail service for several hours.

Now, one day later: the cause of that fire has community advocates and city officials asking questions.

Fire officials said they almost certainly know how that fire started. They point to a tent and personal belongings near the point of origin -- suggesting someone living there likely started it. It’s a problem many believe has manifested into something impossible to ignore.

"Is it acceptable to me?” asked Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss. “If you're homeless and you want help, we have programs that will get you help."

Weiss, visibly frustrated with a problem, said he can't afford to ignore it.

Just last year, the city counted 483 people who rest on pavement and grass.

“As a Christian person, It is our responsibility to take care of the needy," Deputy Mayor Jack Feller said.

Feller agrees it’s a real problem, but with an interesting caveat.

"Almost always, government isn't the solution," said Feller.

“Well, they're getting something wrong," said homeless advocate Michael McConnell.

McConnell thinks it's wrong that this fire brought Amtrak rail service to a crawl, and burned through fire department resources in Oceanside Harbor.

"It's it is such a crisis,” said McConnell. “It is such a humanitarian disgrace that we are not doing better for people that are struggling."

He's critical of city officials who say state and federal statutes, and a lack of sufficient funding or local mental health resources, leave them handicapped to meet the need.

"That sounds like an excuse from tired politicians who just want to kick the can down the road,” McConnell said.

The mayor said every potential solution comes with collateral damage and frankly, many solutions are just plain unpopular.

"As you try to build a shelter, the people who live next to that shelter don't want it," Weiss explained.

It’s an aggravating problem for a former engineer turned public servant facing an infinite problem without an absolute solution.

"There's not some magical answer,” said Weiss. “There's not one silver bullet that will address everything."

The City of Oceanside spends more than $3 million per year on homeless-related resources.

Last year, police officers cleared out 772 camps, picked up 32,000 bags of trash, and made 73 felony arrests. Homelessness prompted 11% of all police calls and 13% of all fire calls.

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