Oceanside Has North County’s Second Largest Homeless Population. It’s Getting Its First Homeless Shelter.
Advocates hope the city’s first shelter is the missing piece to making progress on homelessness that’s been growing for a decade.
By Tigist Layne
Originally published in Voice of San Diego
Oceanside has the second largest homeless population in North County, but it’s just now preparing to build its first shelter.
Without a shelter to turn to, other homelessness prevention organizations often had to coordinate with shelters outside of the city for help with housing homeless individuals.
Leaders of those groups now hope the 24-hour, year-round facility will fill the void in a community that has been struggling with a homeless population that’s been consistently growing for a decade.
Leilani Hines, director of Oceanside’s Housing & Neighborhood Services department, said the city only now is in a financial position to move forward with the shelter after the city received $2.25 million to convert an old high school building into a proper homeless shelter.
“We are a small city,” she said. “We may be the largest in North County, but we are a small city. We are not the city of San Diego, we are not the county of San Diego. We are a jurisdiction that gets very little entitlement money. When you’re talking about small jurisdictions, whether it’s building affordable housing or building a shelter, it takes layers upon layers of financing to get these jobs done.”
Oceanside annually receives two sources of federal funding to address homelessness determined through formulas that weigh cities by population, poverty level and the age of their housing stock.
The city gets checks from both of those pots of funding, Hines said, but the checks aren’t very big. Between both sources, Oceanside has received around $1.6 million annually for the past several years.
“Those are the only direct entitlement funds that we get for housing and service needs,” she said.
Now, though, the city can move forward with the shelter because of a deal they struck with the San Diego Rescue Mission. After Oceanside pays to convert the shelter, the Rescue Mission will cover the costs of operating the shelter year after year.
“I think it’ll go a long way. Every jurisdiction, you know, everyone needs to do their part,” Hines said. “Obviously, homelessness is a complicated issue, we’re not going to solve it overnight and we’re not going to solve it as a city on our own.”
Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, a homelessness prevention organization, said this shelter will fill a huge gap that currently exists in Oceanside and will be critical to collaborative efforts.
“It’s hugely important because right now there is no shelter in Oceanside, and so when our outreach teams connect with somebody who’s interested in being housed, we have to talk to them about going to shelters in other communities,” Anglea said.
Eighty percent of homeless people in Oceanside are from Oceanside, according to data collected by Interfaith from the communities it serves. That means, right now, homeless individuals who want shelter have to leave their city to find it.
“Their families are there; if they’re working, then their jobs are there; their last place of residence was probably there; and their more likely to overcome homelessness there,” Anglea said. “It then becomes even more disruptive to relocate them to another community because that’s where the shelter is.”
That all becomes an impediment to entering shelters if the only option available is out of town, he said, while also making it more likely they end up back on the streets.
The upcoming 50-bed shelter will be in the former Ocean Shores High School building. The Rescue Mission is projecting an operating budget of around $1 million per year, which they plan to cover. Most of the organization’s expenses are covered by private donations.
Paul Armstrong, the Rescue Mission’s vice president of programs, said the shelter will be “low barrier,” meaning there will be few restrictions on entering or remaining in the shelter. Services will include laundry, showers, on-site case management and helping people find stable income, benefits, medical and mental health services, permanent housing or other appropriate housing program solutions.
“It’s a lot of coordinated services,” Armstrong said. “We really do want to partner well and be able to make those referrals, so if someone does need substance-use treatment, we get them that treatment. If someone can be diverted and doesn’t need to be in the homeless service system, we will find them the right solution.”
One of those partnerships is Interfaith, which works with Oceanside’s Homeless Outreach Team, a non-enforcement unit of the police department that doesn’t write citations to homeless people they work with but refers them to other support services instead.
The Rescue Mission and Interfaith can also refer shelter residents to the McAlister Institute, which operates the Oceanside Sobering Services Center, if they need help with substance use.
Oceanside has its own housing authority, meaning it can administer its own housing vouchers. Armstrong said this will allow the Rescue Mission to collaborate with the city for motel vouchers and similar programs to place shelter residents in long-term housing. The city has also set up Interfaith case managers within their housing authority to help individuals who do get a housing voucher find landlords that will rent to them. The McAlister Institute can also make referrals to Oceanside’s motel voucher program.
“I think it’s an opportunity to take a smaller community like Oceanside and really test out some ways to more intelligently coordinate our efforts,” Armstrong said. “How we’re structured in Oceanside right now is unique enough that I think it’s going to be something to keep your eye on because I do think we’re going to be able to create some inter-dependence with one another that could actually see us moving the needle.”
The federal funding for the shelter came from a massive spending bill that lawmakers passed earlier this month.
The city applied for the funding, but also got a little help from local and state leaders, including Congressman Mike Levin who was one of a few North County representatives who pushed for this funding after the city identified the shelter as one of its top priorities. Levin represents the 49th Congressional District.
“I am always looking for ways to help local cities address homelessness, and this facility will play an important role in ensuring that homeless individuals in Oceanside receive the shelter and services they need to get back on their feet,” Levin said via email.
The shelter is expected to be open by Summer 2022.