Some homeless sleep on the sidewalks during the day.
Some homeless sleep on the sidewalks during the day. Photo by Chris Stone

The city of El Cajon Monday unveiled a program aimed at discouraging panhandling among the homeless in the East County city.

The campaign, called “Real Change, Not Spare Change,” is designed to get residents to contribute to meaningful programs that assist the homeless, rather than give money to individuals. The message is on signs that have been posted around El Cajon, and on posters that will be distributed to businesses by the East County Chamber of Commerce.

City officials maintain that giving money to panhandlers jeopardizes their safety, fuels any addictions they might have and prevents them from trying to change their lifestyle.

In the annual tally of the region’s homeless in January, 323 unsheltered individuals were counted in El Cajon — including 60 living in vehicles and 42 in tents or some sort of hand-built structure, according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

The number of unsheltered was up by 105 people from the 2016 count, and was third-highest in the county, behind San Diego and Oceanside.

Around one-third were considered chronically homeless, and just under one-quarter were on probation or parole.

The city said it contributes around $225,000 annually to homeless programs, and added more funding to rental assistance vouchers, programs that reunite them with their families and other efforts.

—City News Service