Homes and the Houseless
What’s at the root of the problem?
What is it that causes a person to be homeless? Some argue that it’s primarily mental illness, or family estrangement, just poverty. These may all be components of a homelessness, but at its root, homelessness is a housing problem. Mentally ill people aren’t houseless because they are mentally ill. They end up on the streets because there are so few homes that meet their needs, and they lack financial resources to attract market-based solutions. This is the case with alcohol and drug abuse. In itself, that doesn’t cause one to lose their home. There are plenty of alcoholics and drug abusers who live in nice homes. Some houseless people are estranged from their families, but if that’s their only problem, they generally have a home. But combine estrangement with mental illness, drug addiction, or extreme poverty and they end up homeless.
Just about all homeless people are poor. In fact, they are far poorer than even the poverty line in their communities. Since the 1980’s income disparity has only increased. Day labor jobs have disappeared. We are still arguing over a paltry minimum wage of $15, while $7.25 per hour remains the minimum in many states. In Encinitas, the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment is $29,000 per year. A person at a $15 minimum wage job earns $30,000 per year. That leaves $83 per month for food, clothing, medical care, transportation, etc. Extremely poor people could get subsidies for housing, but the problem is lack of supply. Over the past 10 years, San Diego County needed 35,000 low income units, but only 2,325 were built.
How big a problem is it in Encinitas?
In 2018, the San Diego Regional Task Force conducted a count and found that there around 2,000 homeless people in North County, of which 354 were living in their vehicles. The most recent “point-in-time” count of the homeless in Encinitas put the number at 80 people, but this is very likely a severe undercount.
What can be done?
On January 22, 2020, the City Council approved the Safe Parking Program at Leichtag Commons.
In February 2021, the City Council unanimously adopted a homeless action plan. This plan focused on three areas:
- Funding a housing manager to get grants, work with the homelessness task force, coordinate agencies, etc.
- Expanding outreach to the homeless population
- Increasing community education efforts
The city has initiated several other programs as well. But there are also actions you can take as a citizen activist.
- Speak up! Too often, public debates about the homeless are dominated by people who more concerned with property values than improving the plight of the homeless.
- Support initiatives like the JFS Safe Parking Program.
- Volunteer with Opening Doors Encinitas. Contact CRC’s Housing Navigators at 760-300-3238 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Educate yourself. It’s easy to blame the homeless for their situation. But that doesn’t solve anything. There’s nothing easy or one-dimensional about solving this problem, but the starting point is getting a factual knowledge of the causes of homelessness and learning about programs that have truly helped.
Resources & Further Reading
The Safe Parking Program in Encinitas. The Safe Parking Program helps individuals and families who are living in their vehicles by providing a safe and secure place to sleep seven days a week.
Is Homelessness a Housing Problem? by James Wright & Beth Rubin. A detailed examination of the facets of homelessness.
Encinitas adopts controversial plan for reducing homelessness, San Diego Union Tribune.
City of Encinitas Homeless Programs. This page describes all the initiatives the city has approved from 2019 to the present day.