North County Homeless Population Surges, Vista Mayor Cites Addiction and Mental Illness as Main Barriers

The annual Point-in-Time census of San Diego’s homeless population has revealed a significant increase in the number of unhoused residents in North County. Vista, in particular, saw its homeless population nearly double from 88 to 170 over the past year. Mayor John Franklin attributes this rise to addiction and mental illness, stating that 94% of the city’s chronically unhoused residents have declined help.

“Some of them we’ve asked 20 times and developed relationships with,” Franklin told KGTV-TV. “We’ve asked them if they’d come and accept a safe, warm bed here, three hot meals a day, a hot shower, clean clothes. And unfortunately, because of mental illness and addiction, the answer is we don’t want to come.”

Despite the early success of Vista’s new Buena Vista Navigation Center, which aims to guide residents toward permanent housing, the city faces challenges in convincing those living on the streets to accept assistance. Hannah Gailey, executive director of Retread, the organization running the center, expressed shock at the dramatic increase in Vista’s homeless population.

“I don’t think we’re seeing success anywhere. The problem continues to get worse,” Mayor Franklin said. He believes that addressing the core issues causing San Diego to be unaffordable for many is crucial to prevent more people from becoming unsheltered.

The census also showed significant increases in the homeless populations of other North County cities, including San Marcos (1,650% increase), Carlsbad (87% increase), and Encinitas (69% increase). Escondido and Oceanside saw more modest rises, while Poway, Fallbrook, and Ramona reported slight declines.