Two years after terminating its housing program over a dispute over federal funding needs, nonprofit organization Solutions for Change is relaunching its housing program with a plan to fund it entirely from donations.
“We are not opposed to government funding,” Chris Megison, President and CEO of Solutions for Change, said last week at the organization’s Vista campus. “We love taxpayers. We are not against, but we are in favor of tackling the root causes of homelessness in families and until both can coexist, we will abstain.”
Megison is defying the Housing First requirement tied to federal funding for homeless shelters. Under Housing First, programs applying for the money cannot make sobriety and addiction treatment mandatory for housing. Those who do, like Megison, are not eligible for government support.
Megison on Friday announced it was launching a $4.8 million fundraiser to renovate six lots and pay off their purchases to restart its housing program. Also on Friday, Megison accepted a $1 million donation from Chris Chen to cover the original $5.8 million debt and accepted $97,000 worth of Jerome’s Furniture items .
Megison and his wife Tammy founded Solutions for Change in 1999, and the nonprofit’s website says it helped 1,300 families over the course of the year.
In recent years, however, the nonprofit has fallen out of sync with the national approach to homelessness, and Megison has at times criticized other homeless service providers for what he says lead people into dependency rather than self-sufficiency.
A turning point came in October 2020 when Solutions for Change abandoned its 47-unit residential program because a new law banned sobriety and program enrollment as a requirement for homeless shelters. Back then, Solutions for Change clients had to take drug tests and enroll in one of the programs.
Four years earlier, Megison had turned down $600,000 in federal grants because of housing requirements in the first place. Housing advocates first argue that recovery programs have a greater chance of success if people are initially placed in a stable environment, such as a home.
Megison said the approach doesn’t sit well with his clients, who are often families with children and don’t want to be around people who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
At Friday’s event, Megison said after a year of analysis, Solutions for Change found raising its own funds was a viable solution to restarting and expanding its program.
The nonprofit has purchased six lots, including an apartment building, single-family homes and duplexes, surrounding its Vista campus at 722 W. California Ave. Megison said six families will be moving into a duplex next week, while other buildings will require construction and will require City of Vista approval.
About 90 volunteers helped unload and assemble beds, tables and other furnishings donated by Jerome’s Furniture for the new homes on a rainy and damp day.
Chen presented in honor of his father, Dr. Richard MK Chen, an oversized check for $1,000,000 from the First Singles Church, USA.
About 60 supporters at times cheered as Megison spoke about Solutions for Change and his opposition to government funding requirements.
“The customer we serve will never be a faceless government system,” he said. “Those we serve will always be the brave mothers and fathers who come through our door ready to find victory over their vulnerability.”
Once all of the new homes are ready, Megison said 550 people would complete the 700-day Solutions Academy over three years. The academy includes professional education, leadership training, family management skills, financial literacy, personal development and accountability.
“The new homeless system requires any homeless non-profit organization that receives government funding not to enforce any personal accountability-based programs,” Megison said. “It means that if someone relapsed from heroin in that location, we wouldn’t be able to enforce our regular intervention protocol, which would help them get out of here, get help, and then come back. We would have to let them stay here and use methamphetamine and heroin in our program.”
The assembled group applauded Megison as he said Solutions for Change rejected the requirement when it was pushed on them by the government.
Megison also said Solutions for Change can run its program more cheaply than the government. He projected that the program would cost $42,000 annually for each family, while a government-funded program would cost $200,000.
Job training programs are not unique to Solutions for Change, but are also not required at other homeless service providers.
Interfaith Community Services offers free training for a variety of jobs for veterans and other clients, and Father Joe’s Villages has several employment and educational service programs.
Some housing programs also focus on helping people become self-sufficient. For example, the national rapid housing model offers a rental subsidy that decreases over time to encourage people to find employment and become self-employed.