Enforcement and compassion: Escondido’s approach to helping the homeless

ESCONDIDO (KUSI) — In one North County city, help for the homeless has become a major priority, and the results are clearly evident in one municipal park.

At Grape Day Park in Escondido, about 35 to 40 individuals used to hang out in the downtown park. By the estimates of some city officials, that number has now dwindled to just a few. The change reflects a shift in the way Escondido is treating homelessness.

Starting last fall, a group of representatives from the city’s police department, the city attorney’s office, code enforcement and park rangers collaborated on a strategy to make the park more community and family-friendly, while taking stronger steps to ensure that Escondido’s municipal codes were being observed.

As Escondido Mayor Sam Abed saw it, “We needed more creative solutions.”

There were no changes in city code, but police and park rangers began to get tougher with enforcement, citing people if they were drinking, smoking, using drugs, or camping, which are illegal activities under municipal law.

However, enforcement alone was not the objective. Abed said it was just as important to build relationships and trust so that people would be more open to accepting the help and resources they needed to get back on their feet.

Calling the new approach “tough love,” Abed said the city used aggressive enforcement of the city’s laws, but also tried to get to know the homeless population, as individuals.

“We knew their stories, sometimes connected them with their families, and we provided them some help through the private sector, churches and nonprofit organizations,” Abed said.

Greg Anglea, the chief executive officer of Interfaith Community Services which runs an emergency shelter in Escondido, also applauded the city’s efforts.

“It’s critical that we work in partnership with cities and with law enforcement to help provide access to resources so that people can improve their lives and get off the streets,” Anglea said.

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