The about the came to a head Wednesday night, including veiled threats of legal action by the City, when the man in charge of the countywide homeless count and the Santee City Council butted heads at the .
Last week, sent a letter to , the Executive Director of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), which performs San Diego County's annual homeless count, and breaks down the numbers by city. This year's count found 58 homeless in Santee and Voepel vehemently disagrees with that number.
The one letter became a series of letters, which culminated in Callstrom appearing before the council to explain how the RTFH reached that number, basically to defend it.
The count supplies officials with information they can use when applying for federal funds to aid the homeless population, and is mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Known as the "," it is a tally of the number of people sleeping on the streets and beaches, in parks, riverbeds, canyons and other outdoor places, as well as shelters, transitional housing and motels. They use a formula for determining how many homeless people are in a given shelter, something along the lines of "two people are assumed per car that is counted."
The use of a formula to determine the homeless count is what Voepel is upset about. He does not believe it is accurate.
In the original email exchange with Callstrom, Voepel summed up the dominate viewpoint of the City Council: "Santee has ALWAYS had 12-15 homeless people (mostly in the River Bottom), this is collaborated by the Sheriff's Department. For you to raise our count to 58, either reflects poor counting methods or cheating. Change your count to reflect reality sir."
Callstrom stood his ground during the meeting, defending the number, but always in a congenial manner, appreciative that the Council was interested in discussing the homeless issue. He did offer that the RTFH could possibly clarify the numbers to communicate that during the count 39 homeless were actually seen, but due to the formula that is used, the count is set at 58.
It is unclear if that would pacify the Council.
"We understand the desire and belief to lower the count. However, we have reconfirmed the data that was reported to us. It would be inappropriate for us to alter what was reported to us. We have to agree to disagree on this one," wrote Callstrom in an email on Thursday.
Voepel laid out a measure which would have the City Council send an official letter to RTFH asking that they change the count. He later added that he plans to ask the Council to move forward with legal action if the count isn't adjusted.
The final vote was 3-1 approving the measure, with , and Voepel voting in favor, voting against and not in attendance.
"Think of Santee as Mayberry. There are no homeless sleeping in their cars on Santee streets, would get them," said Mayor Randy Voepel.
In addition to Callstrom, Lisa Hopewell, the Director of the , and Pat and Tom Leslie spoke before council as members of the public active in homeless outreach in Santee with anecdotal evidence to support a rise in homelessness in Santee (see video of public speakers, Callstrom and Councilmembers speaking on the issue in the media box).
"640,000 Californians lost their homes in the last three years, and one in three homeowners in San Diego County are upside-down on their mortgage, said Pat Leslie. "In the times when we have these types of changes it's not unusual to see families and couples temporarily living in their vehicles in our community..."
During the meeting, Callstrom stressed that there was a basic misunderstanding at the root of the disagreement. The Point-In-Time Count is a number that reflects how many homeless were in an area in a certain four hour period, which is different from the number of "full time" homeless that reside in Santee, the number that the Council is referring to, he said.
Callstrom wrote: "It's time to move on from this year's count and focus on what we can do day to day to address who is currently homeless - to prevent, alleviate, and work towards solutions - that where the conversation needs to go."
A report on the rest of the will be published on Friday.