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Homeless housing project takes center stage at Wildomar meeting

The hot-button topic – a proposed low-income housing project for homeless persons – wasn’t on the agenda but kept cropping up throughout the Wildomar Town Hall meeting on Saturday, November 18, hosted by the Wildomar Municipal Advisory Council (WMAC). Gathered in the David A. Brown Middle School auditorium while late-season soccer games were played outside on the school fields, a roomful of residents listened to keynote speaker Supervisor Bob Buster and several lengthy presentations by county officials during the over-three-hour meeting.

But the majority of the hard-hitting questions focused on the county’s proposal to place a low-income housing facility with social services for homeless persons at the corner of Mission Trail and Canyon Drive.

The five-acre site is a half-mile from Elsinore High School, adjacent to a church and its private school, and across the street from the community library among empty lots and residential neighborhoods. Despite previous appearances by Emilio Ramirez, deputy of the county’s housing authority, at two recent WMAC monthly meetings, it was clear many questions remained unsatisfied and strong vocal opinions have been formed in opposition to the project. Many residents have spoken against facility’s proposed location, citing issues of public safety, especially concern for the children who walk by the property on their way to school, fears of a decrease in property values, potential increase in crime and lack of communication with community leaders. The vagueness of the types of social services offered to the formerly homeless persons is also unsettling to many who wonder if alcohol, drug rehabilitation or mental health issues will be part of the program.

Tempers flared, voices were raised and loud applause followed opposition speakers while county officials monitored the rancorous discussion.

“We’re not wed to a particular site,” Supervisor Buster assured the crowd who waited until the end of the meeting for the homeless issues to be discussed. “We’ve been doing this for six to eight years.” He referred to other homeless housing facilities within the county of Riverside that “fade into the background of each community.” He asked residents to keep an open mind and promised to provide more information at future community meetings.

“So far in Wildomar, you see a lot of the projects – including the library – that are beneficial to Wildomar that we delivered…so it’s the farthest thing from our intention to do anything that is going to hurt Wildomar,” Supervisor Buster said. “I think our track record shows that.”

With the exception of one brave speaker who described her efforts to help the homeless persons in her own home, the majority of the audience cheered against the plan. “Homelessness is an issue nobody likes,” the lone supporter said. “If I had my way, every city would have a mandated shelter, because 50 percent of the homeless in Riverside County are now women and children. We’re all human beings and there are homeless children on the streets. They are sleeping in cars.”

Discrepancies and the lack of concrete details torpedoed the idea for resident Sharon Mena, who was among the long list of speakers questioning the project. “I will not support whatever you bring forward,” she said, “because I no longer have the trust or faith that you will tell us accurately and appropriately what is happening in that development.” Her opinion was accented with applause and cheers.

“This is not a done deal,” said Supervisor Buster. “We want to have a special meeting…I think we all deserve the chance to look at well-run facilities for the homeless.”

“We appreciate your concerns and we will be having additional meetings on it,” he said.

County officials have tentatively scheduled the next community-wide meeting to discuss the low-income housing and social service project for the homeless in Wildomar on January 8 at 7 p.m. at the Mission Trail Library.


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