For the first time in 15 years, Oceanside, a city of about 180,000, will have no wintertime overnight shelter.
Bread of Life, run completely by some 50 non-paid volunteers, operated the shelter which was open November through March. It had 30 beds for men, 20 for women. Dinner was served shortly after doors opened at 6 pm. Guests had to be off the property by 7:30 am. Nightly breathalyzer tests and random urine tests made sure substance abusers weren’t part of the program.
Michael, 54, says he hit rock bottom late last year. “I was in a bad way. I needed knee replacement. It was bone on bone…I was tired of living in the streets but I simply did not know how what to do.”
An Oceanside local, Michael says his meth abuse drove him to the streets. His stealing led him to jail. He says his family had had it with him. Michael says his life turned around once he limped into Bread of Life “…three days after Thanksgiving last year…my [Bread of Life] advocate Norma even drove me down to La Jolla in her own car to get the [MediCal] knee surgery in March.” He says he is now financially stable, has an apartment in Vista and happily volunteers at the Bread of Life thrift store. “I’ve come a long way.”
Bread of Life still distributes free food from its pantry and runs life assistance classes. But former client Michael says the shelter’s inability to reopen comes at a bad time. “There’s a lot of people living in the streets in Oceanside. It’s real, real tough when it gets cold and rainy.”
Two blocks west of Bread of Life, non-client Walter has been camping out on a sidewalk near Oceanside Boulevard. He stays prone in his tent-like shelter most of the day. “A lot of people come by and give me money or food. But every day I get a ticket from the police. They treat people like shit…They never ask if I might need a bedpan.” His mood swings from emotional to confrontational when he goes into rants about how he wants to sue the police chief, the city of Oceanside, and even Bread of Life, “…because they don’t calibrate their breathalyzers.”
Tim Yzaguirre, executive director for Bread of Life, explains that the two rooms previously used for the shelter are now used for a new life skills academy which helps clients find jobs, learn how to speak English, or how to balance a checkbook. He says the plans originally were to use three different rooms in another building for this winter’s shelter. “But the building is so old and so much would have been needed to invest in fire sprinklers and retrofitting. The owner didn’t want to modify and we can’t blame her.”
Yzaguirre says Bread of Life will carry on even as it saw a 40 percent increase in rent this summer. He says those three adjacent 1200-square-foot rooms that were being looked at for a shelter have been rented by a Santa Ana company called Lockout Music which runs a chain of music rehearsal facilities.
Homelessness support organizations like Brother Bennos and Bread of Life struggle with more clients. Plus, they get blamed for attracting the jobless to neighborhoods. But now comes a challenge caused by a renegade non-profit, Solutions for Change.
Vista-based Solutions for Change provides long-term, live-in residence for homeless people struggling with addiction (as opposed to a shelter which is done night-by-night). On November 6 Solutions took an unusual role for a non-profit and bused in over 50 employees and clients wearing matching green T-shirts to the Oceanside city council meeting. They were showing support for North River Farms. That project, which will plow under 215 acres of agricultural land for 585 new houses, was approved on a 3-2 vote. Solutions founder Chris Megison said he proudly supported the project because the developer, Integral Communities, has long supported Solutions for Change.
Only problem: non-profits are prohibited by law from doing this.
“How is a non-profit doing these things and getting away with it?” asks Alex Maitre, a homeless advocate and 25-year Navy veteran. He points out that the Solutions for Change Escondido facility on Escondido Boulevard has subleased space to Carl DeMaio’s campaign for Congress. “I would have expected that space to be used for job counseling or help with transitional housing. For Megison to now claim that Solutions is a legitimate 501c3 is laughable when he is so closely aligned with Republican politics, conservative ideologies and developers.
“Solutions is a superb organization but they need to cut [Megison] loose.” He says that most every other non-profit group serving the homeless in North County is part of the eight-city Alliance for Regional Solutions. Except Solutions for Change. “Chris pulled out several years ago because he thinks the rest of us are a bunch of enablers. He is on an active campaign to hinder and cripple every organization that is not Solutions for Change.”
A spokesman for Chris Megison texted that Megison is too busy today to answer the questions.
The closest homeless shelters for Oceanside homeless now are La Posada in Carlsbad, Casa Raphael in Vista and Haven House in Escondido. The Interfaith Shelter Network is a group of churches who provide shelter for up to a dozen people, two weeks at a time. That network is countywide.