Solutions for Change office in Vista on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The nonprofit is currently trying to acquire new land to support more families in need. / Photo by Vito di Stefano for Planetcob
Solutions for Change office in Vista on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. The nonprofit is currently trying to acquire new land to support more families in need. / Photo by Vito di Stefano for Planetcob

This week, I reported that nonprofit service provider Solutions for Change is working on buying 110 acres of a property called Green Oak Ranch in Vista to expand its services.

The org is in a bidding war for the property with the county of San Diego, which wants the site to build a mental health and substance abuse treatment center.

A purchase like this would be a big deal for Solutions for Change, which has come a long way since turning down hundreds of thousands of state and federal dollars because they refused to follow a new homelessness policy.

Some history: In 2016, leaders of Solutions for Change learned about a new federal and statewide homelessness policy that would force them to change their entire service model.

It’s called Housing First, an approach that focuses on getting people housed without sobriety and treatment requirements.

“That just wasn’t going to work for us,” Chris Megison, CEO of Solutions for Change, told me. He and his wife, Tammy, founded Solutions for Change in 1999.

Solutions for Change requires sobriety from its clients. And those who receive temporary or permanent housing are required to participate in the nonprofit’s job-training programs and vocational classes.

In other words, their model fundamentally goes against the Housing First policy, which stipulates that people should be provided housing without conditions.

The Vista nonprofit provides behavioral health and other support services to underserved residents and homeless people in the community. It offers free or low-cost counseling and crisis intervention services, as well as temporary and permanent housing, childcare, workshops and more. The nonprofit also runs Solutions Academy, a 700-day vocational program.

The policy change: In 2016, California adopted Housing First statewide. As a result, California now requires any state‐​funded homeless program to allowing tenants to stay housed regardless of substance use. 

The same rules apply to federal funding sources. 

Housing First contends that a stable home is the first step to helping people recover from life on the streets and drug and mental health crises. Under Housing First, programs must offer voluntary supportive services with no requirements of sobriety and treatment. 

Many experts agree that permanent supportive housing without strings attached is the answer for those experiencing chronic homelessness, behavioral health disorders and substance abuse disorders.

Programs that don’t follow this model risk losing out on state and federal homeless dollars. That’s what happened to Solutions for Change.

When the federal Housing First policy was first adopted, Solutions for Change leaders walked away from almost $600,000 in federal homeless dollars because they didn’t want to change their model.

Then in 2020, after a years-long dispute over Housing First requirements, Solutions for Change had to abandon its residential program. The program allowed 140 families to live across four affordable apartment complexes owned by Solutions for Change.

Participants of the nonprofit’s programs and classes were offered long-term affordable housing at these apartment complexes, which were partially subsidized by federal housing vouchers.

But because the housing program required tenants to submit to drug testing and enroll in the Solutions Academy, it didn’t align with the Housing First Policy and therefore no longer qualified for housing vouchers.

Solutions for Change ended up selling three of the apartment complexes to another nonprofit that followed the Housing First model. The fourth building was purchased using a loan from the city of Carlsbad, but because Solutions for Change couldn’t get state or federal funds to pay it off, they are now in the process of returning it to Carlsbad.  

Chris Megison, CEO and co-founder of Solutions for Change, at the nonprofit's main campus in Vista on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. / Photo by Vito di Stefano for Planetcob
Chris Megison, CEO and co-founder of Solutions for Change, at the nonprofit's main campus in Vista on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. / Photo by Vito di Stefano for Planetcob

Over the years, Solutions for Change has given up $11 million annually in funding from various county, state and federal sources, Megison told me, plus the tens of millions of dollars they had invested in the residential program.

“It’s really disappointing because we ran that program successfully for years,” Megison said. “Literally, the state is telling you, you must help a homeless person in this way, or you don't get our money. Why can’t there be room for different approaches. It shouldn’t be a one-size fits all.”

He added that their approach has worked for thousands of families, despite what the Housing First policy says.

“The families we work with actually ask us for a drug-free environment, it’s not something we are pushing onto them,” Megison said. “We are also education focused and we teach our clients real life skills, and it’s an environment they appreciate and thrive in.”

The aftermath: This year marks the 25th anniversary of Solutions for Change.

The nonprofit is now completely privately funded with help from donors and philanthropists. And it has managed to maintain a 93 percent success rate in helping their clients move on to permanent housing.

Although a criticism Solutions for Change has previously received from the U.S. housing department is that its model doesn’t embrace San Diego’s coordinated entry system where homeless outreach workers and service providers can sometimes refer homeless people to certain organizations.

In other words, there’s a concern that Solutions for Change could be picking and choosing their clients.

In the past few years, the nonprofit’s leaders have also been working on rebuilding its residential program.

If they end up successfully purchasing the Green Oak Ranch property, they will be able to significantly expand their reach, Megison said.

In Other News

  • Palomar Health Medical Group may have been hit with a potential cyber attack. The medical provider detected suspicious activity on its computer network Sunday, but said it wouldn’t impact operations at its two hospitals in Escondido and Poway. Officials haven’t provided details about how it could affect patients. (Union-Tribune) 
  • State Sen. Catherine Blakespear warned about the continuing impacts of climate change on the future of the rail line along the coast at a hearing held by the Subcommittee on LOSSAN Rail Corridor Resiliency that she chairs in Sacramento. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Oceanside is expected to reopen 80 percent of its pier this Friday after a fire last week destroyed two buildings and parts of the pier’s railing and deck. (Union-Tribune) 

Tigist Layne is Planetcob's north county reporter. Contact her directly at tigist.layne@planetcob.com or (619) 800-8453. Follow her...

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2 Comments

  1. Solutions for Change while turning away “government money” utilizing Housing Choice Vouchers ( government money) in their Oceanside property

  2. The article mentions “many experts agree” with the housing-first policy; however, the point-in-time homelessness counts in California have increased by more than 70k (+60%) since 2016, with year-on-year increases every single year except for 2018. “Chronic homelessness” has increased by an even steeper rate (nearly 100%, or double). Utah, the original housing-first state, has had similarly troubling increases. Just by the numbers, this doesn't seem to be a successful policy (note - homelessness went down in nearly every other state during this time period).

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