By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Robert Gehr: A homeless person sleeps in a tent on Main Street in downtown El Cajon.
November 24, 2022 (El Cajon) – El Cajon’s grant application to purchase property to build a homeless shelter has been rejected by the County. According to El Cajon City Manager Graham Mitchell, County staff informed him that the grant was rejected because “the City did not own the property that was being proposed for the shelter – in other words, the City did not own the property that the grant was intended to purchase.”
Mitchell, in an email sent to El Cajon’s Mayor and City Council, said he told County staff in a pre-grant question and answer session that the city intended to apply for a grant to buy land for a shelter. “The response was that the city should still apply and explain how the site will be obtained,” he wrote. “During their follow-p questions of the City’s grant application, they asked for an update and we indicated that an appraisal was on its way and that the formal offer was about to be made.”
The application was made through the County’s Capital Emergency Housing Solutions Grant Program, for which Supervisor Joel Anderson had urged East County cities including El Cajon to apply.
Anderson, in a letter to the Mayor and Council sent Nov. 17, said, “Staff from the County’s Office of Homeless Solutions will contact the City of El Cajon staff regarding the next steps in the process.” Supervisor Anderson, whose letter to the Board of Supervisors proposed the grant program, added, “The County is committed to working with the City and any other potential partners in East County to explore your ideas.”
But Mitchell observed, “I am not sure how many cities have the luxury of buying and holding property in the hopes they can fund a shelter in the future.”
Mitchell said city and housing staff have devoted considerable time and effort into the grant, working with outside organizations including the East County Homeless Task Force and San Diego Rescue Mission.
“In retrospect, had I known this was a deal killer, we would have recommended either not applying (saving a lot of staff time) or giving the City Council other options to consider,” Mitchell concluded.
In a separate email to Council, the City Manager added, “Unless there is a compelling reason to apply for a future County grant, I will likely not recommend the City apply for a future round, if one becomes available.”
Though the news comes as a disappointment for city officials seeking help to house the homeless, the greatest loss by the County’s rejection of a plan for a long-awaited shelter will be felt by the growing number of homeless people camped on streets, in parks or riverbeds. The County’s rejection of El Cajon’s grant proposal means these unhoused people will still have no safe place to sleep, let alone call home.