Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Reducing homeless population is not an easy fix

A.C. Roberts

Special to the Village News

"The homeless problem in Fallbrook and Bonsall has been getting worse over the past two years," said Daniel Sturman, program manager of Homeless Outreach Program in San Diego County; "We need more homeless shelters. They come to California because of the good weather."

"Now, there are two shelters near Fallbrook and Bonsall, Operation Hope in Vista, for families and women, and Haven House Emergency Shelter in Escondido, which is co-ed. Two more will be built soon, probably this year. One in Oceanside and another one in Escondido," continued Sturman.

The Homeless Outreach Program is a service through the agency, People Assisting The Homeless (PATH). PATH is dedicated to helping individuals, families, and communities in Fallbrook and Bonsall to fight homelessness.

"Laws are in place which make it illegal for people to sleep on sidewalks, in front of businesses, in empty lots, and in parked cars," said Deputy Jason Hayek. He is in charge of the Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART). "But, the Ninth Circuit Court has determined those laws are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced under most circumstances. The case of Martin v. City of Boise is one factor attributing to the ongoing homelessness crisis."

The case ruling held that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population.

Annually, on a single night, communities are required to do a count of people experiencing homelessness. This year it was on Jan. 23. The count is federally mandated and is done by volunteers through Point-In-Time. If the count happens on a cold rainy night, it is harder to locate homeless persons, and also if there are not plenty of volunteers the counts may not be accurate.

"There's a notable decrease in the homeless population in Temecula," said Michael Wooten, manager of the Homeless Outreach division in Temecula.

Bonsall, Fallbrook, and Temecula all have many programs in place. In particular is HART, serving Fallbrook and Bonsall. They specialize in providing resources to the homeless community.

"HART's team is part of the sheriff's department, and they are very active," said Lieutenant Aldo Hernandez, of the Sheriff's Fallbrook Substation. "While our station patrol deputies do contact our homeless population on a daily basis, they don't have the same impact as the HART team would."

"When developing the HART team, we met with many law enforcement organizations throughout California," said Hayek. "HART deputies go to training throughout California to see various tactics other agencies are using to combat homelessness."

"The HART Team is comprised of, eight deputy sheriffs and one sergeant, social workers from the Office of Homeless Solutions, social workers from the Health and Human Services Agency, Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, Code Compliance officers, and nurses," said Hayek.

Affordable housing does not solve mental and behavioral health issues. That is why so many organizations, teams, and health professionals collaborate.

"It's very discouraging," said Jon Payne. He does maintenance for Fallbrook's Village Association businesses. "I'm the one who cleans Jackie Heyneman Park, and I find used needles all over the place. The homeless drink beer all day, and get high smoking weed and meth."

"Something has to be done! There are multiple homeless on an empty lot next to us," said an administrator at the Fallbrook Boys & Girls Club. "It's a problem to have them near our children. We don't want them there!"

Several businesses agree that it's the younger homeless who are rude and belligerent, and harass people, like they have a sense of entitlement. The older ones are nicer.

"There used to be a porta potty on Ash Street for the homeless, but it's gone," said a volunteer for St. Peter's Thrift Store. "I mind that they go to the bathroom on the side of our building. We have to clean that up, and it's still stinky! They drink a lot of beer. Three or four sleep under the awning. In the morning, they pack up their sleeping bags and wheel their grocery carts to another area down the street. One guy was too drunk to leave so the sheriff took him away."

Village News has observed homeless people carrying away donations, including a lawnmower from the thrift stores.

"The porta potty was removed because it had become a central hangout for drug-dealing," said Roy Moosa, president of Fallbrook Village Association. "It was negatively affecting the businesses in the entire area. Since it was removed, the homeless have spread out to many areas. You can't win. We need to go back to no loitering laws, so you can't just hang out on a street corner. You need to be going somewhere."

"The Village Association spent $40,000 to put in fencing around Jackie Heyneman Park, because of the homeless," said Moosa. "We spend money beautifying Fallbrook, then we have to spend more money cleaning up after the homeless."

"If an individual is willing, the HART team can usually find a place for them to go," said Hayek. "HART has access to most programs throughout the entire county. Our big problem is the percentage of people who do not want to go to a program, shelter, etc.! The state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless."

Some homeless people do not want help, and they choose this lifestyle. Others experience homelessness as a result of unfortunate circumstances like losing their jobs, losing insurance benefits, and having declining health, and then there are those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, the mentally ill, illegals, and individuals escaping abusive situations.

Programs which Temecula attributes their success to are Social Work Action Group (SWAG), Regional Homeless Alliance, Mission of Hope, Homeless Outreach Team, Project Touch, and a Burglar Suppression Team.

"I can confidently say that the homeless population in Fallbrook and Bonsall have as much if not more resources available to them than Temecula," said Hayek. "And we are currently working on partnering with nonprofits to identify ways citizens can help us in our mission to assist people experiencing homelessness."

Anthony Campbell from AC Investigations has interviewed several homeless people for the Village News. Campbell said almost all of them are mentally ill, alcoholics or drug users (including fentanyl, meth, and heroin).

"As far as I have observed, the people who are sane and just down on their luck and homeless don't stay here long because they take advantage of the resources through the Sheriff's Department, PATH or HART," said Campbell.

"A small portion of the people who hang out with the homeless population located on the Promenade and nearby park are not necessarily homeless, but visit the walkway daily to partake in drug and alcohol activity," said Campbell.

"The homeless call the Promenade 'The Canal' and they mention that they appreciate the county cleaning 'their house' from time to time," said Campbell.

One homeless person, Ray Salazar, who was interviewed by Village News several years ago said, "I prefer to be in Fallbrook because people are just nicer here." Salazar struggled with drugs and was in and out of shelters for several years, struggling to obey the rules.

"To solve the problem we need to have co-op farms where they could work," said Moosa. "They could do something worthwhile, while helping the community. It's not helpful when the homeless get free handouts."

If businesses, schools, and residents do not want homeless people camped near them, they may call the Fallbrook Sheriff's Substation non-emergency line, 760-451-3100, and leave a message for the HART team. HART does not have their own number. Emails go directly to the HART team at [email protected].

The Bonsall Chamber of Commerce refers the homeless to the San Diego County 2-1-1 phone number. It leads to local community resources available through the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. They give information and referrals to physical and mental health resources, housing, utility, food, employment assistance, and suicide and crisis interventions. It is a national number, good in every state.

To volunteer with the Homeless Outreach Program/PATH call 619-810-8600. Homeless people may call PATH, too. They will need direct referrals for certain programs.


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