Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


By Miriam Raftery

July 25, 2016 (El Cajon) — Citizens Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog group, has sent a letter to the City of El Cajon objecting to future grants to the East County Transitional Living Center—and calling for the center to reimburse the city for grants that Citizens Oversight claims were “improperly applied to religious purposes.”  The group has asked that its letter and documents be distributed to Council members for the upcoming Council meeting Wednesday that includes community block grants.

Councilman Gary Kendrick defended the city’s actions, stating, “We’ve been assured by our attorney that this is all perfectly legal.” He added that cutting off funds would hurt the homeless, adding, “I don’t want to throw women and children out on the street.”

Citizens Oversight raised several issues.  The group has in the past objected to government funding of for the homeless through the East County Transitional Living Center (ECTLC), also known as Set Free Ministries, because the organization offers only short-term programs for homeless people while offering long-term help only for those who enroll in a Christian religious-based program.  The City Attorney has previously concluded that funding only the short-term, secular program is legal since it is not religious-based.

In the recent letter, however, Citizens Oversight president Ray Lutz contends that the city allocated federal funds to pay for 100% of certain capital improvements including air conditioners, solar and more even though only 10% of the facility is used for the short-term, non-religious services for the homeless. Lutz also contends that the ECTLC maintains a ”cult-like” control over participants by asking that benefits such as food stamps and Social Security be turned over to help defray expenses.

Kendrick told ECM that the City Attorney has reviewed Lutz’s letter and defends the city’s actions as legal.

He notes that El Cajon also funds around $100,000 a year for Crisis House, which provides non-religious assistance to the homeless.  “We do more for the homeless than any other city in East County,” Kendrick says, adding that he has two tenants at his home who graduated from the ECTL program which helped them turn their lives around.

He indicated that he would support funding for long-term programs for the homeless of a non-religious nature if any organization—whether Christian, Muslim, atheist or non-secular, came forward with a good proposal. He encouraged Citizens Oversight and other groups concerned about the homeless to do so.

 “I think it’s a great thing, anybody who wants to help the homeless,” Councilman Kendrick concluded.

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.