SHIPWRECK 2/5/24: Escondido's mayor should welcome help instead of fighting it

We are reliably informed that Escondido Mayor Dane White plans to oppose a proposal by San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer to explore whether five or more county-owned properties can be used for temporary housing, safe parking, shelter, or other emergency relief for the homeless. Four of the properties are in San Diego, while one is about 2 acres in Escondido near downtown at 620 East Valley Parkway. The proposal is scheduled to be discussed at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6.

The proposal is modeled on the 150-bed Rosecrans emergency shelter, which was built on county property in the Midway District in partnership with the City of San Diego and the Lucky Duck Foundation. Opposing this idea at such an early stage is unwise, to put it mildly. The Escondido site is easily accessible with utility and sewer service in place. If approved by the Board, Supervisor Lawson-Remer’s measure could offer county funding for site development, installation of sleeping cabins, and other infrastructure. In exchange, the city or nonprofit that runs the center would be responsible for ongoing costs.

It seems like a pretty sweet deal, especially as the state just donated 100 Pallet Shelter cabins to the county. And Escondido is struggling with a major budget deficit, leaving officials with hard choices ranging from laying off police and firefighters to closing libraries and its arts center.

Mayor White campaigned in 2022 on getting homeless people off the streets of Escondido. Instead, he voted to kill funding for the Haven House shelter run by Interfaith Community Services, a nonprofit that’s been helping the poor for decades. White objected that Interfaith accepts homeless clients – and funding – from other North County cities.

The mayor wants a city-run shelter that’s somehow limited to those who lived in Escondido before they lost housing. And Mayor White says that accepting county help will force Escondido to accept the needy from surrounding cities. He’s wrong on this – the Board of Supervisors hasn’t even made the land available or asked for proposals, let alone decided who gets into the resulting housing.

And Mayor White may be badly misreading his constituents: 82% of likely voters believed San Diego County government should play a major role in addressing homelessness, while 84% believed city-owned vacant buildings (and presumably properties) should be used for inclement weather shelters, according to a poll commissioned in 2020 by Lucky Duck. That was three years ago. The public has even less patience with government inaction today.

Homelessness is a regional tragedy that needs regional solutions. But fair enough - if Escondido’s mayor wants to build a city-run shelter, that’s more beds for people in need. Yet he needs money the city doesn’t have, on land that hasn’t been identified. Years from now, the county plans to develop affordable housing on its Escondido property. Until then, emergency housing can be installed quickly, for pennies on the dollar compared to new construction. Doing it alone is a recipe for a worsening crisis of compassion, health, and public safety in North County.

Is the real agenda to chase the homeless into other cities? Tellingly, White is also working on a camping and parking ban – without first providing a safe place to house the people this would displace. It’s too early to know if the county will agree to provide its property and funding. We sincerely hope Mayor White changes his mind about opposing assistance before it’s even offered.