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By Jonathan Goetz

Photo, left: Eric Lund, CEO, San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce and Chair of the East County Regional Task Force on the Homeless

August 27, 2017 (El Cajon) - The El Cajon City Council approved four budget items earlier this month regarding homelessness, as well as approving a partnership agreement with the El Cajon Collaborative. Council unanimously approved $2,000 for anti-panhandling signs, $3,550 for a mobile app to help the homeless find service providers, $10,000 for a homeless reunification program to reunite 20 homeless people in El Cajon, and $125 for a brick at the El Cajon collaborative.

Councilman Ben Kalasho said, ““I feel like we should call this the El Cajon task force because we are paying more of the money” than other East County communities.

The citizen who coordinated much of the efforts to make this project a reality, Eric Lund, assured Kalasho and the Council that he would be seeking additional funding from La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Santee.

Lund said, “I do want to commend the city of El Cajon. El Cajon is the first city to step up and put forward a commitment that is meaningful so thank you for your support... I really am convinced that all the other cities will participate in a meaningful way and I think the County is also going to step up.” He thanked the volunteers from the East County homeless task force and the other organizations participating in this effort.

In September and October, El Cajon is expected to approve grants to help Crisis House find housing for homeless individuals and in October an anti-panhandling ordinance is expected to be introduced by the City Attorney.

Photo, right: Anti-panhandling sign (El Cajon)

Back in June, the Council approved a series of strategies tasked to address homelessness, including anti-panhandling, access to homeless services, increasing housing opportunities for the homeless and to collaborate with the community and the region regarding homelessness.

Monies were allocated towards each of these four strategies.

$2,000 will be taken from the public works sign maintenance budget for the manufacture of 20 anti-panhandling signs and will be installed in strategic locations, taking into account recommendations from the community.

Regarding access to homeless services, a ConnectEC Phone App was approved at $3,550 out of the Council’s contingency budget. It works both with smart phones and via traditional text messages for older model phones to connect users to services. Funds will complete the launch and pay for one year of maintenance, but after the first year, it will need additional funds, perhaps from another East County City, to continue.

The animal shelter will also provide animal shelter kenneling for the pets of the homeless. The Homeless Outreach Team will also continue.

Regarding housing opportunities, $10,000 will be taken from the City Manager’s existing economic development budget for a reunification program to reunite 20 of El Cajon’s homeless. El Cajon is working with the East County Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and meeting with SDSU professors who are committing to have students study the issue of homelessness in East County and develop proposals to alleviate the issue.

The City Council also recently approved $70,000 4/1 with Kalasho not supporting, for emergency housing for homeless women and children at the East County Transitional Living Center.

Councilman Gary Kendrick told East County Magazine of this split vote, “I call this a tough love approach. People that want to stop their destructive lifestyle and be helped can be helped. People that want to continue their destructive lifestyle and break the law will be dealt with appropriately.”

Councilman Steve Goble commended the City for its “two-pronged approach,” with the transitional living center for some and the Crisis House housing navigator for others.

The City Council has expressed its commitment to fund $80,000 in housing assistance tied to the housing navigator at Crisis House. Staff will bring forward grant agreements in September and October for Crisis House.

Goble seemed the most well-versed in the details, naming names and citing plan specifics.  Goble and Lund both met with the County to seek help.

After El Cajon announced its $80,000 for the housing navigator, the County agreed to provide funding for the seriously mentally ill, freeing up the City’s funds for the non-seriously mentally ill.

Goble believes this is an example of wise spending. He stated, “I think the city is being very smart with taxpayer dollars. These are not large dollar amounts but they’re very targeted and I think the taxpayers should be aware we’re spending the money very wisely in a test pilot situation with a lot of partners at hand and that’s what makes this a great program that I think is becoming a thought leader throughout the county.”

Now organizers hope other East County cities will participate. “El Cajon has done more than all of the other East County cities combined to help the homeless,” concluded Councilman Gary Kendrick, and called on the other cities to participate.

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