By Jonathan Goetz
Photos: Councilman Tony Ambrose, left, leveled harsh words at Richard Graydon, right, a citizen seeking more help for homeless people.
August 11,2016 (El Cajon) – Tempers grew heated during Tuesday’s El Cajon City Council hearing, where Council member Tony Ambrose scolded a citizen, Richard Graydon, who had criticized the City's approach to homelessness. The agenda included the city’s responses to two critical Grand Jury reports, one on homeless issues and the other calling for formation of a citizens’ police oversight board.
The City determined it already does enough to help homeless people--more than other East County cities-- and also concluded there is no need to allow citizens'oversight of any complaints against El Cajon Police.
In response to the Grand Jury Report faulting East County cities for not doing more to address homelessness, El Cajon City Manager Douglas Williford compiled a list of homeless services operating within El Cajon and told Council, “There is no suburban city whose response even approaches ours.”
The City is mandated to submit a formal response to a Superior Court judge regarding the Grand Jury report. Williford told the Council, “Our draft response for your consideration is extensive, it is pointed, it is detailed. We believe the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations were in error.”
Richard Graydon, a veteran, then turned in a speaker card. He suggested that the City can do better. He stated, “What we need to do is a lot more and we need to be working with Father Joe in San Diego and some of the others to build a complex for these people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Ambrose then snapped at Graydon. “What do you do to help the homeless? Is there anything that you do to help the homeless?” he asked.”Why don’t you start a non-religious group to help the homeless?”
The Union-Tribune now has the full exchange posted here: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/aug/12/el-cajon-says-it-do...
As Graydon tried to respond, Ambrose interrupted, saying “No, I’m talking now, you spoke, I’m talking now.”
Later in the meeting Ambrose apologized to Graydon saying, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
When asked about the incident, Ambrose, who is not running for reelection, replied “It’s very unlike me and I apologized. I worked as a consultant for Father Joe’s for years. That’s one of the issues that’s very near and dear to my heart. I was just having real problems with what was coming out of his mouth.”
The City Council voted 4-0 (Councilman Bob McClellan was absent) to approve Williford’s response to the Grand Jury report on homelessness.
The Council also voted to reject the Grand Jury’s recommendation that in order to build trust within the community, a Citizens Commission should be founded to independently investigate complaints against the Police Department. Thus, when a complaint is filed, the Police Department will continue to be responsible for investigating itself.
El Cajon did however make progress on the Grand Jury’s goal of building trust between Police and the community by authorizing the purchase of police body cameras. This item had been on a prior Council agenda but was tabled until the same meeting as Council’s responses to the Grand Jury.
El Cajon is the seventh city in San Diego County to purchase body cameras for its police force. Now, in case of a violent incident, there should be more concrete evidence to establish fault. The body cameras also have a 30-second buffer. This means that when they are turned on by an officer, they will have recorded the 30 seconds prior to being activated.
Regarding the homelessness issue in El Cajon, Williford told East County Magazine that “probably two-thirds of our homeless community are from East County and their relatives are right here. And that’s both interesting and tragic at the same time. People always ask me why are certain people always in El Cajon? The answer is they grew up here; this is their home.”
Resources for the homeless in El Cajon include:
211: Calling this number should be able to put you in touch with all the below resources, and can also be used to find emergency shelters in case of a natural disaster.
Crisis House (1034 N. Magnolia Ave, El Cajon 619-444-1194 www.crisishouse.org) has short term food and shelter assistance, including case management and housing placement. Accordign to a city report, “They served nearly 3,000 individuals last year. The City recently renewed its contract for Crisis House to remain for another five years, at no cost, in a City-owned commercial building and to also to be given funds accruing from the lease of space for a cell tower on-site. Total City funding to Crisis House is now estimated to be $110,000 per year. Over the past ten years, the City's funding toward Crisis House is almost $1 million.”
East County Transitional Living Center (ECTLC) (619-447-4498 1527 E Main Street, El Cajon) offers faith-based discipleship program that helps individuals gain self-sufficiency through both short term food and shelter as well as life skills. It boasts a higher than average success rate of getting people off the streets. The City provides the shelter $100,000 per year, but only for a secular portion of the program that offers short-term assistance only. Councilmember Gary Kendrick has two graduates of ECTLC living with him. Both Mayor Bill Wells and Councilmember Star Bales have checked people in to ECTLC and Councilmember Bob McClellan has had work done at his home by participants. The ECTLC also has a contract from the Public Building Improvement District (PBID) in downtown for clean-up/refuse services. A large component of their program is contracted-out work performed by participants both to support the Center financially and contribute to a sense of responsibility and work ethic for the participants.
Home of Guiding Hands (1825 Gillespie Way, El Cajon 619-938-2850) received $38,000 from the City of El Cajon for improvements to single-family properties. According to the website www.guidinghands.org, the center “offers many living choices to people with developmental disabilities such as autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities so that people can direct their own lives by choosing the housing arrangement or services that best suits the individual’s needs and wishes.”
Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program (619-441-1710) “The City of El Cajon administers the housing rehabilitation loan program using CDBG and/or HOME funds. Assistance is available to rehabilitate single family residences located within the city limits of the City of El Cajon or for mobile-homes located in an eligible mobile-home parks. The deferred, zero interest loan is for qualified households earning 80% or less of the Area Median Income. The loan amount is up to $50,000 for a single family residence and up to $20,000 for mobile-homes. Each loan becomes due and payable if the property is sold, rented, refinanced, transferred, or is no longer owner-occupied.” website http://ci.el-cajon.ca.us/your-government/departments/community-development/housing-division/housing-rehabilitation-loan-programs
Legal Aid Society of San Diego (877-LEGAL AID or 877-SD HEALTH) provides legal aid twice a week at the El Cajon Library, 201 East Douglas Avenue, El Cajon. According to Williford, “many of the homeless have problems with the law, whether it be a warrant for their arrest, or something they think is major that in fact is very minor and can be remedied with the help of Legal Aid.”
Meals on Wheels (619-260-6110) received $15,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds this fiscal year.
Temporary Housing Vouchers for Veterans AMVETS 619.442.0238 Health & Human Services 866.262.9881 assists military veterans with shelter needs.
Volunteers of America runs the Carlton G. Luhman Center for Supportive Living (290 South Magnolia Avenue, El Cajon (619) 447-2428) . The Center is “a 56-bed residential treatment facility for adults with mental health disorders. Program services include comfortable living arrangements, nutritious meals, case management, counseling, educational workshops, skill-building curricula, and referrals to community resources. Each year the program serves more than 135 individuals and families in San Diego County.” website www.voa.org/housing_properties/luhman-center-for-supportive-living