A full house of attendees flocked to the Lake Elsinore Cultural Arts Center Nov. 2 for a frank discussion on homelessness in the city.
The inaugural Homeless Outreach Community Coalition meeting featured city leaders, county officials, nonprofit groups, church leaders and interested residents, who discussed the ongoing problem in the city and what could be done to alleviate the problem.
The goal of the Lake Elsinore Homeless Outreach Community Coalition is to bring together the community to collaborate on how to best serve those in need by giving those affected a “hand up instead of a hand out.”
Lake Elsinore Senior Management Analyst Nicole Daily, who moderated the two-hour meeting, began by sharing some facts with the more than 200 people in attendance. She told the group that in 2014 the city created the Homeless ad hoc Subcommittee to address feeding the homeless in parks. In 2015 the city began proactive enforcement of illegal encampments. In 2016, weekly enforcements of illegal encampments began and in October 2016, the city adopted the Regional Homeless Alliance Resolution.
According to Daily, in January, a Point in Time count showed 62 homeless people in Lake Elsinore.
“We know that that number is probably a little bit lower than the number is actually is but with no straight boundary lines around the city, it’s hard to get an accurate number of what is going on in any of our communities,” she said. “They are transients and they do move around but it gives us a base of where we were in that point and time.”
The city also created a new council subcommittee on homelessness in May, appointing Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Johnson and councilman Brian Tisdale to the group and launched its homeless task force in June. The city’s role in the homeless task force includes enforcement, policies and programs, including municipal code, housing programs, etc., and engagement and education of the community on how they can help those in need.
“This is a problem we have all across the country.,” Daily said. “I don’t know that anyone has really found a solution to the problem, so it is naïve to think that we will.”
Daily said that nonprofits, churches, businesses and residents also have roles to fill when it comes to homelessness.
“It’s a community wide effort,” she said. “If we can do that, I think we can make a bigger difference.”
Code enforcement Officer Fred Lopez told the group that there are more than 85 homeless encampments throughout the city. He said his department takes all the calls they receive seriously and have responded to each call they receive. Some hot spots for the homeless include empty businesses, parks and the lake.
“A lot we deal with impacts our lake. We deal with a lot of environmental hazards,” Lopez said, adding that he and his department try to be proactive. “We sit down as a group to determine how we can utilize our policies and codes to be effective.”
He said there are codes regulating solicitation, vehicle solicitation, camping on private property, shopping cart ordinances, parks and beaches regulations, unattended donation box regulations and nuisance abatement code.
The city holds those who fail to properly maintain their property, financially responsible if the city has to deal with abatement, which can cost the city anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to clean, depending on the size of the properties. Since July 1, 2016, the city has removed 175 tons of junk and debris from120 transient camp cleanups at a cost of approximately $225,000, Lopez said.
“The transients are getting creative with where they are deciding to stay,” he said.
Currently the city is looking for anyone interested including private and nonprofit businesses, faith-based organizations, governmental agencies and individuals willing to join the coalition to help find real, lasting solutions for the homeless population.
The group will meet every other month to address the many needs and challenges in the community related to homelessness including addiction, behavioral health, housing and basic necessities such as transportation, identification and health care. The city of Lake Elsinore says its overall goal is to bring together all local resources to collaborate and address these challenges to be able to help someone right away by connecting them to the right resources at the right time to get them out of homelessness.
Desmond Young with Riverside Recovery Resources and a member of the Homeless Task Force said he was in recovery after working in the corporate world in Sacramento.
“I saw the homeless situation but for whatever reason it hit me up in Sacramento. Obviously, we can’t rely on just the government to help,” he said. “Truly, my heart is in this and that is what I see from your representatives its not a political thing for them, they are looking to make a difference. We are not going to end homelessness, but they are doing something about it.”
After a question and comment period, Tisdale had some tough words for those in the audience.
“We are going to do what is right for our city and the homeless too,” he said. “We need to work with our partners, we need to work with our region, we need to work with the county and we need to work with everyone to come together. Those folks we can help, we will. Those folks we can’t help, it is what it is.”
To join or to learn more about Lake Elsinore’s Homeless Outreach Community Coalition, visit www.lake-elsinore.org.