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Up to 40 homeless people living in out-of-sight encampments in Vista may receive offers for housing through an outreach program the city is expanding with a state grant.

The Vista City Council this month accepted a $1.8 million Encampment Resolution Grant from the state Interagency Council on Homelessness to create a new outreach team and fund rental assistance or other housing options to people living in encampments in the Buena Vista Watershed area off Hacienda Drive.

Additional funding will be used to continue making improvements to the watershed area as a way of discouraging other homeless people from using the area for encampments, said Vista Housing Program Manager Sylvia Daniels.

“We do a lot of cleanups at those sites, but due to its nature and the size of it, and the sensitivity of the wildlife in the watershed, we are limited,” she said about the area just north of Hacienda Drive between Emerald and Melrose drives. “So we thought this would be a great area for the project.”

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Vista Assistant City Manager Amanda Lee said the state received 39 applications for the grant and awarded 18, with Vista the only city in San Diego County to receive the funding.

The grant will fund a demonstration project, meaning a project that is shown to be successful and can be replicated in other communities, Lee said.

Daniels said the city’s state application stood out because an outreach team already has had some success in the watershed, but keeping the area clear of encampments has been an ongoing struggle.

“No matter how much success we have, these areas will continue to have a steady flow of people who come in and out of them, and in part we believe that’s because of the proximity of the local jail and courthouse,” she said. “A lot of people end up in a situation where they have nowhere else to go, and just having life circumstances happen to them after they’re released from either institution, that’s the first place where people are typically going to go.”

The city already has hauled trash out of the area and created a trail system with entry points alongside Hacienda Drive. Signs at the entries show three short trails — one is .35 miles, another .26 miles and one a half-mile — while other signs note that the area is a biological preserve with prohibitions against fires and the building of structures, shelters or other habitations.

“It hasn’t deterred people from staying there, but it’s less than it was before,” Lee said.

That fit in with the state’s goal of finding solutions to encampments with recurring challenges.

The city’s grant application identified 24 acres that includes the watershed and the surrounding Breeze Hill neighborhood.

“The goal of the grant is to take people experiencing homelessness and place them in housing or a path toward permanent housing, and then to also repurpose the area back to its original state or into something else where it’s not creating these additional environmental harms,” Lee said.

The new outreach team will work with local landlords in an attempt to find housing within Vista for the people in the encampments, she said.

The city already has a contract with Exodus Recovery for one social worker and one housing navigator to conduct outreach in the area, and a new contract to expand the team with two more people is expected to go before the City Council next month, Daniels said.

“The grant will not cover the entire trail maintenance,” Daniels said about additional work ahead. “We’re looking at other grant opportunities to create a more solid trail system there. This is really just to begin the work on the trail. Most of the money is dedicated to doing homeless outreach and housing.”

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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