Wanted: A Home for Houses for the Homeless

Times Staff Writer

Three houses and a duplex have been donated to set up a small settlement to shelter temporarily homeless families in North County, and an engineer says the structures can handle a move to another site. Now all the North County Task Force on Homelessness needs is a place to put them.

The task force made an appeal to North County residents Thursday for a parcel of land to set up the first shelter in North County that would provide short-term, emergency housing for homeless families composed of a mother, father and children.

"We want a center to help families get back on their feet . . . to deal with the problems that created their homelessness," said Kristen Meyer, a co-founder of the task force and director of patient and family services at Palomar Memorial Hospital.

Two houses owned by Temple Adat Shalom, a stucco California-style bungalow owned by the Trinity Episcopal Church, and a duplex offered by an undisclosed "local philanthropist" have been donated since the task force, which was formed in March, began looking for ways to help the growing number of homeless people in North County.

"Not only do we have homeless transients and traditional street people, but large numbers of homeless families. There are families who have never been in the situation of being unsheltered before," said Suzanne Pohlman, director of the North County Interfaith Crisis Center and a co-founder of the task force.

Pohlman said she was astonished that "all the major ingredients have come into place quickly" to set up emergency, short-term family housing. "All that remains is the land." Pohlman said a commercial mover has tentatively agreed to transport the buildings to a new site and the Eastern Orthodox Church is working to obtain the personnel to staff the shelter.

"We feel its really a miracle that all these things have presented themselves to help abate an overwhelming community need. Now we just need a piece of land to establish a small settlement," Pohlman said.

As social workers have lamented in the past, however, everybody wants to help the homeless, but no one wants them in their neighborhood.

"We are hoping. In the past when we have appealed to the public for money for patients or other programs, we have gotten donations. We have never gotten anything at this level, but we are going to try," Meyer said.

"It would not be a flop house," Pohlman

said. "It would be a place for intact families to live until their lives are in order again. They would go through what social workers call case management, with structured goal-setting to get them on their feet at the end of their stay.

"North County has a lot of rural areas, we anticipate that someone will have the property."

Pohlman said the number of homeless coming to the crisis center has increased 365% in the past nine months, and about 2,000 people have presented themselves to the center in the past seven months.

She organized the task force this winter with other social service workers when a young pregnant woman without shelter died of pneumonia.

The group of public officials, area clergy, social service agency personnel and local citizens, which meets monthly to devise solutions to the homeless problem, made its appeal Thursday at a press conference at the First Methodist Church in Escondido.

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