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City Council takes up homeless motel voucher program

Posted at 6:34 PM, Sep 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-28 02:14:50-04

(KGTV) — El Cajon city council voted Tuesday to appoint two members of the council to form a sub-committee to study the motel voucher program and see if changes need to be made.

According to the city manager, the latest point-in-time count reveals El Cajon has the highest homeless population per capita and the most shelter spaces in the county. How so many unsheltered people ended up in the city has become a battle between the city and the county.

"There is a massive influx of people, we know exactly, this was a huge influx, we talk to these people. They've been dropped off by county employees, dropped off by deputies," said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells.

Many of them end up in rooms paid for through the county's motel voucher program, but Mayor Bill Wells says the numbers don't add up.

"Little El Cajon, which only represents 5% of the county has 45% of the people in the voucher program, that's not right," said Mayor Wells.

According to a staff report presented to the city council Tuesday afternoon, eight of the eighteen participating motels are in El Cajon.

Two weeks ago, the city sent seven motels notices of code violations for acting as "de facto homeless shelters" with 22% to 100% of occupants using vouchers. The notices said they need to reduce the number of vouchers to 15% of their total motel rooms or face fines.

Then over the weekend, the California Attorney General sent the city a warning saying it's violating state and federal housing laws, stating in part, "forcing people out soley based on their source of income violates the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act. "

"They unilaterally decided we were breaking the law, that we were violating people's civil rights and they wrote us a threatening letter to bring the entire weight of the state of California down on the city of El Cajon," said Mayor Wells during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The city has since rescinded the warnings and will work with the motel owners. The city is also asking the county for more data about who is placed in the program and how they're screened.

Still, the mayor doesn't believe the city did anything wrong.

"I'm absolutely 100% positive we're not breaking the law. This is a stunt," said Mayor Wells.

Monday, supervisor Fletcher said the mayor is the one pulling a stunt. Fletcher said the majority of the homeless in the voucher program are from El Cajon or the east county.

"It's a question of do you want to be part of a solution or part of a stunt and the people of San Diego don't have time for stunts. They need solutions," said Fletcher.

Mayor Wells responded saying the county has failed to properly screen program participants. The mayor says there's been a spike in crime recently, adding police have made more than twenty arrests near or at the motels in just the last ten days. The police chief confirmed some of the people arrested had outstanding felony warrants.

"Our police officers know the homeless people that are on our streets. They know their faces, they know their names, and they're the ones saying we're getting flooded with all these new faces," said the mayor.

"What we’ve been fighting against in El Cajon is the county making El Cajon a homeless, crime-infested, lawless ghetto," said the mayor.