EDITORIAL: Encinitas effort to help homeless is not a ‘big city’ issue

North Coast Current

At the height of the financial crisis a decade ago, plenty of Encinitas residents were underwater, many facing the loss of their homes in foreclosure.

Let’s say those individuals or families did not have six-figure incomes to keep themselves afloat (as some in town these days seem to assume people do). Where do you think those neighbors might have ended up? Under the weight of job loss, home loss, even family loss, what remaining asset would they likely have? If they were lucky? Their car. Yes, maybe even a newer-model Mercedes.

Ten years later — with rents and home prices reaching celestial heights again, and despite what appears to be a strong economy — one lingering aftereffect persists. Homelessness.

“Research shows conclusively that when many people in California first become homeless, they attempt to live in their cars,” Anne Olmstead, president of the League of Women Voters’ North County chapter, and chairwoman of the league’s statewide task force on homelessness, told the Encinitas City Council on Jan. 22.

That consideration appears lost on a segment of the Encinitas community, who too easily branded the homeless in recent weeks using the cliches that such lost populations fall prey to — public defecators, hopeless druggies, criminals. Worst of all: “Not part of our community.”

From October through to the Encinitas City Council’s approval early Jan. 23 of a Safe Parking Program lot on Leichtag Commons property, there was plenty of vitriol spewed at supporters of the idea and the homeless themselves. It’s reminiscent of tactics seen recently in Cardiff, where a legal dispute over construction at Cardiff Elementary School led to anonymous banners publicly singling out one fellow resident — by name — as a “child hater.”

There are legitimate reasons to debate the implementation of Jewish Family Service’s parking lot program — the City Council’s procedures and motives; the stipulations of a state grant program; the concerns over safety, health, proper facilities and vetting of parking lot users. It’s important to note that Jewish Family Service explains what it offers on its program website.

But for some in the community, it’s been a last straw of some kind, to the point that a newly announced candidate for mayor told the City Council to rip the poinsettia off the city seal, claiming that Encinitas’ rich agricultural heritage was being jeopardized by a 25-space parking lot for those who literally have nowhere else to go.

That angry imagery also rips through a thoughtful anecdote offered by Tom Cozens, a member of an Encinitas founding family. At the City Council’s meeting Jan. 22, Cozens recalled how members of the community, specifically the Ecke family, whose poinsettia empire once occupied the Leichtag Commons land, helped neighbors of Japanese descent during World War II.

“This city, as a flower-growing city, had many Japanese residents. They were sent off. The Ecke family stepped up,” Cozens said. “The barns, on the same property that Leichtag now owns, those barns were opened so that those families could put their belongings there and return and find them.”

Today, helping the local homeless population — even through a simple 25-space parking lot for an overnight sleep — is not a “big city” issue, as the mayoral candidate referred to it. It’s a human issue.

Editorials solely represent the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. The Current welcomes letters to the editor and longer commentaries sharing opposing points of view.

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