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East County News Service

November 27, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) – The newly created San Diego East County Regional Homeless Task Force held its first meeting in mid-November at the El Cajon Police Department. 

The effort is being spear-headed by the San Diego-East County Chamber of Commerce with support from civic leaders, educators, religious and other nonprofit organizations, social service providers and law enforcement. City managers from La Mesa, El Cajon and Lemon Grove and about 100 others attended the inaugural meeting.

The group seeks a collaborative effort to address homelessness problems, which are beyond what any single community has been able to cope with as the number of homeless people has grown across our region. 

“We need to bring everybody together so people understand how homelessness is impacting all these different sectors of our community,” said Eric Lund, CEO and President of the East County Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Last year, a County Grand Jury report encouraged the cities of La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and Santee to coordinate efforts to increase prevention, shelter and transitional housing needs for the homeless in East County.

Too often, homeless sweeps in one city or unincorporated community has simply pushed the homeless onto the streets of neighboring communities, without getting homeless people the help that they need, several participants indicated.

Some voiced compassion for helping the homeless, but also cited pragmatic concerns, such as the number of homeless increasing in one El Cajon part when well-meaning people began bringing them food. Homelessness has also drawn complaints from merchants concerned about safety or loss of business.

The city of San Diego, meanwhile, has drawn national criticism for its often Draconian treatment of the homeless, such as callously installing sharp rocks to discourage the homeless from sleeping beneath an overpass before the All Star game to prevent baseball fans from seeing the homeless. Many have had their belongings seized or been cited for trespass on public property even when no shelters were available. A Union-Tribune reporter this week reported on one homeless woman found about to give birth in a rat-infested tent. 

Law enforcement groups have also formed the East County Homeless Outreach Team, a collaboration of Sheriff’s deputies and other local law enforcement representatives as well as county social workers.

The new East County Homeless Task Force aims to go further and create a regional plan to address the needs of homeless people and communities. 

The group plans its next meeting in January, when it will hold break-out sessions on individual topics.