California Homeless Shelter Closes Instead Of Taking In Addicts

By McCarton Ackerman 07/29/16

Rather than housing active drug users, Solutions for Change has chosen to give the government back hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.  

California Homeless Shelter Closes Instead Of Taking In Addicts

Rather than take in drug addicts, a San Diego-area homeless shelter has instead decided to temporarily close its doors.

Solutions for Change is a large homeless shelter and housing complex that has been operating for the past 16 years in Vista, California. After families are housed at the shelter, they are brought into job training and life-skills programs. But after the federal government mandated three months ago that all homeless agencies receiving federal funding must take in drug addicts, the organization decided to return the money instead.

Chris Megison, President & CEO of Solutions for Change, told Fox 5 San Diego that the shelter will return $700,000 it has received in federal funding. However, Megison said the funding only represents 9% of the shelter's budget and they are exploring ways to make the money back so they can re-open.

"Our government is saying to our parents, they don't have a choice anymore and they have to live next to people who are active heroin users, meth users and other drug addicts,” he said. “They’re saying if we don’t agree, we lose the money.”

Other homeless shelters across the country have taken similar action. In 2015, the Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC) in Connecticut announced it would permanently close its 40-bed facility in the town of Manchester rather than admit substance users.

Beth Stafford, the MACC's executive director, turned down $174,000 from the state’s Department of Housing due to the state rule which requires facilities receiving state funding to take in substance users. The shelter had already denied housing to substance users in the past except in cases of extreme cold and heat, claiming it lacked adequate funding and staff to handle potentially volatile situations that can occur with drug and alcohol users. 

“I feel like it's just warehousing people. It's not helping. It's a tough population, anyway, because you can't make people do things,” said Stafford. MACC’s website had stated that the facility “is not a long-term shelter ... the average stay is roughly 15 days and guests are expected to be working on a recovery plan while using our shelter."

Findings released last year by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness show that nearly half of all homeless individuals, and 70% of homeless veterans, suffer from a substance use disorder. Many are “screened out” of public housing options if they aren’t sober when trying to access these services.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.