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Relocating will likely force Crisis House to end walk-in day services for the homeless and rely more on outreach to homeless on the streets or in parks to direct them into housing programs

By Miriam Raftery

August 2, 2020 (El Cajon) – By a unanimous vote, El Cajon’s City Council on Tuesday approved giving Crisis House until December 31st to vacate its current location on city-owned property and still qualify for $700,000 under an early lease termination agreement.  Crisis House, which provides services to the homeless and to victims of domestic violence, has been leasing city property for $1 a year for the past 26 years.

In an earlier decision, the Council had given Crisis House only three months, until September 30th, to get out and receive the maximum $700,000 amount, though a diminishing amount of funds would have been offered to aid in relocation through when the lease ends next summer.  Under the new arrangement, Crisis House will no longer receive anything if it stays past Dec. 31.

But Crisis House executive director Mary Case says she is satisfied with the new arrangement, even though it will be still be very challenging.  “We will have to move and go find something to rent for a bit,” she told ECM in a telephone interview, “but we can keep the $700,000 and have until the end of July 2021 to make a purchase” of property.  “That was huge, because we do expect to have a lot more properties come on the market between now and then.”

Currently, property prices are high and there is a lack of inventory of sites that would meet the needs of Crisis House.  “The reality is that $700,000 doesn’t go very far in the market,” says Case, who added that she didn’t want to ask for too much by requesting more money from the city. But she added, “It would have been great to have them say, `Do you need some more money?’”

Besides having to budget for a mortgage payment or rent, which was never in the nonprofit’s budget, Crisis House also has to budget for potential tenant improvements to customize a new location to suit their needs.

The city wanted to oust Crisis House from its location on Magnolia, because the city wants to get rid of homeless encampments nearby, which is also near the newly opened Hampton Inn Hotel. The nonprofit has been serving East County for 50 years. The city previously paid full relocation costs when it evicted Crisis House from a downtown location 26 years ago, due to redevelopment of that area.

Asked if Crisis House will have to cut services due to the move,  Case replied that even with the extension, “I don’t think we’ll be keeping everything going….We’re still really looking at focusing on our housing programs and not doing walk-in homeless services or resource center services any longer for the general public’s needs.”

She hopes that eventually a separate center can be opened to provide those services, such as a place for homeless people to charge up cell phones and computer, shower, and access services.  “I’d love to see a real day center with those services,” says Case, who adds, I would love to do it, but we need to get ourselves settled and then see what resources are out there.”

The cuts in services to the homeless are looming at a time when more people than ever are at risk of becoming homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Nationwide, more than 4 million mortgages are in forbeareance, Fortune magazine reported on July 2.  Forbearance is a temporary delay on foreclosure with reduced or delayed payments -- payments that are  coming due for millions of Americans.  Protections for many with federally-backed mortages ended July 31 --two days ago, putting many homeowners at risk of foreclosure unless their lenders voluntarily agree to negotiate for delayed payments.

Thus far, the Senate has blocked efforts to extend protections and is even stalling on extending unemployment benefits or other forms of relief. Many with non-federally backed mortgages have no protections at all. 

Countless renters also fear eviction when moratoriums end. After months of joblessness amid the pandemic, many renters wil be unable to pay several months of back-rent and some could wind up on the streets. The city of El Cajon has provided some rental relief, but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough for the many who are now housing insecure.

As for what services will remain through Crisis House, Case states, “We still have outreach and rapid rehousing programs for the homeless, and those services will continue because they can be done in the field. We plan to add more of those services…to meet people in the street and help them into housing.”  Transitional housing for victims fleeing domestic violence will also continue, she predicts.

She praised Councilman Gary Kendrick for his role in helping get the time extension approved by his colleagues on the Council. “We had a two-hour dialogue…I think that we’re going to be able to make this work. I’m happy to have a little breathing room,” Case adds.

But the nonprofit still needs help to cover costs of moving, as well as appraisals and environmental reviews which can run thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of a mortgage.

“If anyone has a building for purchase, I hope they wll consider giving me a call t 619-444-3132,” Case  says. “Or if there is other funding, or people want to donate – we have a lot of costs.”

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Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.

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