Lake Elsinore approves new agreement with homeless outreach group

The agreement will be paid for by a $1.5 million grant from the state

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Lake Elsinore City Council approved an agreement with Social Work Action Group at the council’s Tuesday, Sept. 24, meeting to provide street outreach services to homeless individuals both within the city limits and in the surrounding area. 

Lake Elsinore, in collaboration with the city of Wildomar and the Riverside County board of supervisors District 1, was awarded a $1.5 million grant from California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program in March. The city will use those funds to pay for a new agreement with the Social Work Action Group, also referred to as SWAG, to expand homeless services in Lake Elsinore, Wildomar and unincorporated county areas.

“It’s allowing us to expand into the District 1 areas and in Wildomar and have consistent outreach beyond our city border,” Nicole Dailey, senior management analyst for Lake Elsinore, said.

SWAG has been providing homeless outreach services in Lake Elsinore since August 2017. In fact, Lake Elsinore is the first municipality with which SWAG has worked. Since then, the organization has begun working with seven other cities in the Inland Empire region. 

With homelessness increasing in the region and across the state, Lake Elsinore was in need of the grant to pay for extra help from SWAG, Dailey said.

“We have no local beds or housing (for homeless individuals) in southwest Riverside County,” Dailey said. “Zero beds.”

There also are very few nonprofits assisting the homeless population in the region, Dailey said.

“So we’re lacking a lot down here in our area and that’s why we knew we needed to go after the funding, and one of the reasons why we received it,” she said.

About half the funds are to pay for housing to get homeless individuals off the streets, while the other half pays for SWAG services.

The housing funds are planned to cover rent, utilities, landscaping, maintenance and more for temporary housing for 30 to 120 days until more permanent options are found.

It’s currently unclear exactly what the housing will look like, but “we envision that we will rent properties and we will place people into homes … until we can get them into a more permanent option,” Dailey said.

The funds for SWAG are capped at $1.015 million, making it completely covered by the grant. The agreement is also designed to be flexible so that funds can be changed depending on demand.

The grant funds that are paying for the new homeless services are, however, restricted to helping people who are have been homeless for more than a year.

“These funds are very strict under this program in that they are for the chronic homeless,” Dailey said.

Separately, a new community services deputy from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department covering Lake Elsinore is set to start Oct. 10, increasing the number of community services deputies in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar to three. The sheriff’s department’s Problem-Oriented Policing team also continues to focus on issues related to homelessness and drug use in the area.

“So we have a pretty decent homeless team now out on our streets, enforcing our laws and supporting our community,” Dailey said.

A new housing and outreach specialist working for the city is also set to start in October.

Aaron Petroff, SWAG’s director, highlighted a few of the successes his organization has already had since beginning to work in Lake Elsinore two years ago.

He shared the story of a woman his team met panhandling in Lake Elsinore.

“We helped connect her with county housing that literally took six months from the time she was connected for that agency to find her housing,” Petroff said. “Fortunately by the grace of God, she still stayed in the housing that we helped set up, because I think a weaker person – I think, myself, may have failed, because she was still dealing with the heroin addiction.”

The new grant will help with issues of finding housing, he said.

“With this grant, we can same-day get somebody of the streets and then work toward a more permanent housing solution,” Petroff said.

Moving forward, he said it’s going to be important to work with law enforcement to stop homelessness in the Lake Elsinore area.

“The people who we serve are the hardest to serve – they are deep in their addiction, deep in their mental health issues, they’re in a state where we all know they don’t want to be there but finding a way out is sometimes unimaginable,” Petroff said. “So that’s where our friends in law enforcement and code enforcement come into play because they help raise rock bottom, they make it so it’s not comfortable to be here.”

Petroff said action has to be taken – or homeless individuals in Lake Elsinore will remain on the streets because there is no incentive to make a change.

“We want people to know that if you’re here, this community cares about you so much that we’re not going to allow you to be on the streets. We’re not going to allow you to kill yourself,” Petroff said.

Monica Sapien, executive director of SWAG, said she was excited for the work to be done under the new agreement.

“This new funding is going to give us the opportunity to step it up,” Sapien said. “Currently, we’re using county resources and will continue to do so, but what this funding will allow us to do is provide more control within our organization. We will be able to provide the intensive case management. We’ll be able to bring on our licensed therapist, our own nurse practitioner that can assist.”

Sapien said the increased services under the new agreement were planned to start being offered Oct. 1.

Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos thanked the SWAG team for their efforts.

“The work you’re doing with code enforcement, the city staff, the police, the sheriff’s department, is nothing short of God’s work, and everybody is very, very grateful for it,” Manos said.

The new agreement passed the council unanimously. 

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.