Friday, August 12, 2016

[San Diego County] Lemon Grove says it’s trying to help homeless

LEMON GROVE — Lemon Grove is not happy that it was included with three other East County cities in a San Diego County Grand Jury report citing marginal involvement in helping the homeless.
In a report to the City Council on Aug. 2, City Manager Lydia Romero also said she was unaware of much, if any, contact by Lemon Grove personnel with the Grand Jury during its investigation.
“Staff is unable to confirm how the grand jury came to its conclusions about Lemon Grove,” Romero said.
“It does seem unfair that this report was prepared without talking to anyone in the city about what we are doing,” City Councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza said. “We (need to) express how we feel about how this report came about (and the) misperception that we are ignoring the homeless in our city.”
The Grand Jury report released in June said Lemon Grove along with La Mesa, El Cajon and Santee are not doing enough for the homeless. According to the 2015 Regional Task Force on the Homeless count, Lemon Grove had 11 unsheltered persons in the city, El Cajon, 191; Santee, 30; and La Mesa, 19.
The report asks the cities to do more to prevent homelessness, offer shelter and transitional housing, and to join the Regional Continuum of Care Council. The continuum council works to end homelessness in the region by addressing underlying causes of homelessness.
Lemon Grove does not have a permanent emergency or transitional housing plan for its homeless. Romero noted that the city has churches that take part in a “rotational shelter program,” which helps out the homeless during assigned weeks.
Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom said that after seeing the Grand Jury report, she reached out to other mayors, hearing back only from El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells.
“I know we have a problem, we have some concerns about the homeless,” Sessom said. “But we can’t go it alone, and no city wants to be our buddy right now.”
Discussing the issue with the other council members, Sessom stressed the importance of all the cities working together with the county as they have in the past, to address homelessness.
She said that years ago, she and then-Mayors Jack Dale of Santee, Joan Shoemaker of El Cajon and Art Madrid of La Mesa got together to discuss the homeless situation “as a subregion.” The mayors met with county Supervisor Dianne Jacob to plan on how to contribute to El Cajon’s homeless shelters and other ways to work as partners.
In a response to the Grand Jury in a letter to Jeffrey Barton, presiding judge at the San Diego Superior Court, Sessom said the city disagrees with the idea that Lemon Grove’s involvement is marginal.
“The city’s faith-based community is actively involved in providing free meals to the homeless,” Sessom wrote. “Lemon Grove has several affordable housing projects located within its 3.8 square miles. One particular project provides housing for aged out foster youth and rents to residents are considered extremely low income.”
Lemon Grove does not have the capital to provide housing services to the homeless, Sessom said, but it will continue to partner with faith-based organizations to support those groups’ current work.
In her letter to the judge, Sessom also said Lemon Grove sheriff’s deputies created an outreach program to work with homeless individuals they come across. She said a Psychological Emergency Support Team clinician is assigned four days a week to ride along with deputies, up from two days a week previously.
Lemon Grove deputies also distribute resource guides to the homeless with information about local services that can help them temporarily. Sessom said deputies encourage the homeless to call 211 to connect to transitional housing and services that best meet their needs to get off the streets.
Sessom also said that Lemon Grove will work with the county’s Health and Human Services department on outreach and programs or services that are available for the homeless.
The city recently agreed to a contract with San Diego State’s Sage project, Romero reminded the council. The students in Sage have a plan to study the homeless situation in Lemon Grove. will also
Brenda Hammond, a homeless woman in Lemon Grove who attends nearly all the City Council meetings, told the council that “if you don’t have a drug problem or an alcohol problem or the problem of mental illness, you don’t get anything.”
“We need to start doing something for everybody, not just for somebody who has a problem,” Hammond said.
August 9, 2016
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Karen Pearlman

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