San Diego’s East County communities had more than 1,000 homeless residents in early 2019, according to the best estimate of an annual homeless count, a number that will only be increasing, given the lack of new housing construction and the escalating cost of housing in the region. Looking for a way to connect this population with the local food, shelter, health, and veterans’ resources available, the area’s REALTORS® discovered that, according to additional studies, the majority of people experiencing homelessness in the area have cell phones. An increasing number of these publicly funded phones now have internet access. A $5,000 Housing Opportunity Grant enabled the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS® (PSAR) to partner with the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce Foundation and The East County Homeless Task Force in developing ECAssist.org, a website serving as a one-stop resource for those experiencing homelessness.
PSAR Government Affairs Director Tracy Morgan Hollingworth explains that the initial idea was to create an app, similar to the City of San Diego’s “Getting it Done” app, but she learned from colleagues that app stores like Google and Apple are notoriously selective about the programs they’ll market. So, they decided to create a website, instead.
The East County Homeless Task Force is a collaborative grassroots organization determined to reduce homelessness in the area; its Access to Services Solutions group and its Communications and Marketing Committee worked together to develop the website. Hollingworth credits Past Chair of the PSAR Government Affairs Committee, Kay LeMenager, with providing the tireless dedication that really got the project off the ground. Grants don’t have to be large to be effective, she notes, as long as there are enough dedicated people willing to do the work. “It was a slow, methodical process – three years – collecting all that information from all those resources, but Kay and her Committee members saw it through.” Now that it’s up and running, the Task Force has a commitment from the El Cajon Collaborative, who developed the website navigation and serves one of the poorest communities of East County, to maintain and update the site over the next two years. The site is well organized and user-friendly, allowing visitors to locate food pantries, various hotlines, medical care and shelter information in just a few clicks. The site translates into 15 languages, and also has a function that accepts donations.
PSAR is now helping with marketing ECAssist.org: press releases have gone out to the media and relevant publications; the East County Homeless Task Force and has asked other municipal entities to feature it on their own websites; and Hollingworth is working with LeMenager and her Committee to create a speakers bureau to spread the word at local civic and business clubs. Last April, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, representatives of PSAR officially presented the $5,000 check to the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce Foundation, at a meeting of the El Cajon City Council.
“We made a great effort to try to reduce homelessness in Eastern San Diego County through the development of ECAssist.org, and we’re so grateful for the support of the REALTOR® Party that allowed us to do so,” says Hollingworth.
To learn more about how Pacific Southwest REALTORS® is working to connect area residents experiencing homelessness with available resources, contact Government Affairs Director Tracy Morgan Hollingworth at 619-618-5986.