San Diego

Supervisors OK Homelessness Reduction Efforts in East County, Also Fed Plan

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The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved two items Tuesday dealing with the homelessness crisis, including a federal prevention plan and identifying solutions to reduce the number of unhoused people in East County.

Supervisors directed Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to review and incorporate relevant portions of the federal government's "All In" plan into the county's existing program.

Robbins-Meyer will also identify available county-owned land that can be used for emergency housing solutions, including safe parking, and update the board within 120 days.

Released by the Biden administration last December, the "All In" plan proposes a 25% reduction in homelessness in the United States by 2025 by re-committing to strategies such as the "housing first" model.

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said the federal plan allows for collaboration, and solutions will need input from the 18 cities in the county.

In a separate proposal from Joel Anderson, supervisors directed Robbins-Meyer to find a potential site or convert a hotel in the unincorporated region of East County, as a way to increase shelter capacity.

According to information on the meeting agenda, lodging vouchers could be used to meet the goal. Robbins-Meyer will also determine if developers or hotel operators are interested in working with the county.

Anderson's office also requested that the lodging project be exempt from the state Environmental Quality Act guidelines because it won't have a significant environmental impact.

East County is home to four cities, including El Cajon and Lemon Grove, and also includes numerous rural unincorporated communities such as Alpine and Spring Valley.

Anderson said his district has the fastest-growing number of homeless people in his district, more than the other regions combined.

While the county has set up safe parking lots and moved forward with temporary cabins, "we need to do more," Anderson said, adding the standard hotel/motel voucher system makes it harder to provide more comprehensive services for those in need.

Increased hotel lodging "would give us the ability to actually have many people who need the same services (in) a cluster of where we can help them," while moving towards a more permanent solution.

"Our ultimate goal is not to have anybody in a shelter," Anderson said. "Our ultimate goal is to restore people's lives and get them back into the community."

Anderson said that if the proposal works, "perhaps we can deploy it more throughout the county," while benefiting the overall resident population, businesses and tourists.

"When we all have a plan, and people know how to count on us, we produce better products," he added.

During a public comment period, several callers applauded the county's latest efforts.

Jordan Beane, an official with San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, said his group is ready to help by putting a focus on housing opportunities on county land.

Beane said that for every 10 San Diegans getting off the street, there are 13 experiencing homelessness for the first time. "We need to act fact, we need to act quick, and keep equity in the center of everything we do," he added.

Hanan Scrapper, regional director for People Assisting the Homeless, said interim housing has a role to play, especially in regions like East County, where shelter bed capacity is limited.

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