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El Cajon targets homeless housing program

El Cajon City Council on March 21 held a special council meeting to address issues the city is experiencing with homeless programs operating within its city limits.

Earlier this month two registered sex offenders with ankle bracelets were recently arrested for allegedly having engaged in and filming themselves having sex with an alleged minor.

In addition, the El Cajon Police Department arrested a sex offender staying at a local motel with the use of a County voucher administered by EQUUS.

Also on March 21, police identified one of the victims of sexual assault which occurred at the Motel 6 in El Cajon was a 16-year-old girl. According to a statement from ECPD Public Information Officer Lt. Jeremiah Larson detectives are working with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office evaluating appropriate charges for both registered sex offenders.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said he feels left out in the dark when it comes to how many individuals are staying in El Cajon through the several regional programs that are utilizing El Cajon motels through voucher programs.

“If now is not the time to talk about this, when is?” he asked.

Mitchell reported that records from the County’s Regional Homeless Assistance Program show the number of those housed in El Cajon increased from 112 on Oct. 25, 2022, to 132 on March 15, about an 18% growth.

Mitchell presented six options for discussion and consideration with objectives to reduce negative impacts to neighborhoods and surrounding motels, ensure safe environment for guests of motels, reduce calls for service and stress on public safety services, have a better understanding of how motels are utilized in the city, and ensuring that registered sex offenders do not pose a threat to the community.

The six options considered were a 90-day moratorium on the use of housing assistance voucher in El Cajon motels, consider revoking Motel 6 operating permits by providing it a notice of hearing before the Planning Commission, staff to prepare an ordinance that require motels to inform the city if they participate in the homeless assistance program and how many rooms are designated for the program, requiring a criminal research record search be conducted prior to housing an individual in a lodging establishment, and a formal request to investigate price gouging by motels.

After a closed session to speak with the city attorney about possible litigation in taking actions on these proposals, Mitchell said that the city would move forward with all six options and bring them back to Council as they progress on each.

Mayor Bill Wells said this is not a new problem as the City has been dealing with this for six months or more.

“When we found out that the county was engaged in this voucher program, we looked at the numbers and El Cajon is carrying about 50% of this burden for this program and El Cajon represents about three percent of the population,” he said.

Wells said the City has reached out to the County many times about the problems stemming from the voucher programs.

“We never came out of the gate saying we did not want to participate,” he said. “We want to do our share but we do not want to do more than our share…If the County wants to get back in our good graces and they want us to participate in the program, they need to come to the table with us…This is what we were elected to do. This is the sentient moment, the salient moment for all our political careers is today. This is the test.”

At the March 28 meeting, staff recommended that service providers for the short-term shelter, which are reimbursed from County, state, and/or federal funds, evidence shows that these service providers are securing motel rooms at rates significantly higher than publicly advertised rates.

“Because the responsible use of taxpayer money is a core principle of local government, and because serious questions remain as to whether the County or its contractors are overpaying for motel rooms, it would be appropriate to request that the San Diego County Grand Jury look into this program. To that end, staff has submitted a “Citizen Complaint Form” on behalf of the City Council with that request. Staff will also prepare a formal request for the San Diego County District Attorney to investigate and will present legislative solutions to local state legislators for their consideration. Staff will keep the City Council apprised of any outcomes from these efforts,” reported city manager staff.

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Source: East County Californian

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