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Escondido Backs Shelter for Homeless : Housing: The council changes its mind and votes to provide the county’s only continuous winter lodging for the needy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Escondido City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to open the county’s only continuous cold weather shelter for the homeless.

The National Guard Armory in Escondido will be opened as early as next week to house homeless people every night through mid-February

The three other cold-weather shelters in the county are open only on nights when the temperature falls below 35 degrees on clear nights, or 40 degrees on nights with rain.

“This will be a very merry Christmas for the homeless,” said Suzanne Pohlman, executive director of the North County Interfaith Council.

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Pohlman’s organization is one of the area’s largest service providers to the homeless and is the group most likely to run the shelter once it opens.

The city staff initially proposed using the armory to shelter the homeless only on cold nights, as is done at similar shelters. But North County Interfaith agreed to pay the estimated $4,200 to keep the shelter open continuously through the winter.

“For the shelter to work with North County’s homeless, it has to be consistent, otherwise folks won’t know whether it will be open or not and we will have confusion,” Pohlman said.

The Escondido City Council stunned homeless advocates last month by turning down a similar proposal. The council asked for more details on how the shelter would operate and requested that the city staff look into other options, including enlisting the aid of local churches.

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But the city received only two responses to a mail-in survey of 21 local churches, and both responses were negative, said Pat Getzel, housing manager for the city.

However, 10 hotels in the city said they would be willing to participate in a voucher program in which they would house homeless families at reduced rates, Getzel said.

The program will also include 300 vouchers for hotel rooms in Escondido to be distributed to homeless families at a cost of about $9,000, Getzel said.

But the demand for the vouchers will probably exceed the supply, and it has not yet been determined how those vouchers will be distributed, Getzel said.

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The total cost of the program is an estimated $19,053, according to a staff report.

Organizers of the cold-weather shelter in Vista, the only other such refuge in the area, had argued against the proposal, fearing duplication of services.


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