San Diego's Homeless Brace For Freezing Temperatures
January 14, 2013 1:33 p.m.
Bob McElroy, President and CEO, Alpha Project
Joel Roberts, CEO, PATH Partners
Ruth Bruland, Executive Director, St. Vincent de Paul Village
Beth Hallock, Project Director, Operation Hope
Related Story: San Diego's Homeless Brace For Freezing Temperatures
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The top story on Midday Edition, during the coldest weekend so far this winter many of San Diego's thousands of homeless struggled to survive the freezing nights and shelters added extra beds but most of San Diego's homeless as usual were left to their own devices. Joining me to give an assessment of how they survived the freezing week and are my guests. Bob McElroy is vice president and CEO of Alpha project. Welcome back to the program
BOB McELROY: Thanks for having us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Joel Roberts is CEO of Path partners around the permanent shelter in downtown San Diego Joel, hello.
JOEL ROBERTS: Thank you it's a pleasure to be here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ruth Bruland is executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Village and Ruth welcome to the program
RUTH BRULAND: thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bob remind us how cold it was again?
BOB McELROY: It was cold enough to kill somebody literally, down in the 20s and 30s. I believe we did some averaging downtown and we actually saw people plastics and sleeping bags with ice on them. We gave out every blanket and jacket we have but still a lot of people were cold. Here's a blessing, the last year we had two people die of exposure on the 17th street project this year as far as I know you know, nobody passed away which is a blessing and also the housing stepped up on Friday and called is that St. Vincent Depaul and I believe Rachel Sullivan center allowed us to open our doors and bring people in a degree a couple hundred more people off the street so it was a blessing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of injuries result from exposure like this.
BOB McELROY: Exacerbates conditions people are to have 75 to 80% of people we have in the winter shelter program are disabled senior citizens where they have diabetes, breathing issues, now during flu season we are doing our best to keep people about their flu shots and not getting sick. And we all know that their primary care physician is the emergency room. So it is far more cost-effective to you know, be proactive instead of reactive. You know, just keeping people warm. It rained a week or so ago, their belongings get wet, you see them hanging on the fences downtown, they never dry out so now we have people trying to insulate themselves with wet gear, to get pneumonia, the cold, the flu, these other kinds of things and if they don't have help from our reach, people can die.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How many people homeless people will be able to be housed in the city of San Diego as opposed to how many are on the streets?
BOB McELROY: I think this weekend in the emergency outreach I think there were about 150 to 200 additional people not including the 225 the winter shelter program and the 150 at the vet tends so we have a couple hundred people inside as opposed to outside but we really didn't have enough time to get out there and reach everyone. We tried our best but down at the river beds and along the railroad tracks and under freeways we could not reach those people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me go to you, Ruth. Did St. Vincent de Paul provide markets this weekend?
RUTH BRULAND: Yes we had 109 with us last week including two families with a total of six kids with them so that made a big difference for those people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The additional beds that you provided this weekend, where they filled in other words was there enough time to get out the word for people to come St. Vincent de Paul because there would be more shelter available?
RUTH BRULAND: Over the span of the three nights so far and we're doing it again tonight we had an increase of 43 people so as the word spread, more have come in but still, as Bob said it's pretty hard to get the word out for those who have tried to bunker in and stay warm.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bob it's estimated 5000 homeless people in the streets of San Diego?
BOB McELROY: In the downtown area there are between nine and 1100 on any given day its different account. I think there are 9000 10,000 countywide but you know there are all bunch of people out there and if it is you you are the most important person out there we do have like I said so many veterans, women, so many disabled. We have so many people in their 80s who get Social Security only get $800 a month, $700 a month and you can live anywhere in San Diego on that and they are poor on the street, families, dogs, cats.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are options available for people who do not make it to a shelter on a freezing night. You talk about sleeping bags, plastic sheets, blankets.
BOB McELROY: Plastic is a big deal. I've been preaching that the whole weekend a 55 gallon trash bag and save somebody's life make a park out of it insulated from the damp and wet. Some people aggressive actually had ice crystals on the sleeping gear which will get wet, blankets and jackets you can always drop off at any one of the facilities but maybe down at the winter shelter program open 24 seven right in 16th and Newton downtown and we will get it out to people also churches that come down down maybe sometimes with images, bring down some jackets and blankets and cold-weather gear and is going to save somebody's life.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bob Andrews you heard the weather report and last week they said it looked like there was a cold front coming down from the Arctic our way, what kind of reach let me start with you, Ruth, goes into that and you know when it's going to be affecting a lot of homeless people in San Diego.
RUTH BRULAND: It's heartbreaking because for us we provide transitional housing so we are not an emergency shelter so with the kind of support that the housing commission provided there is not a lot we can do. We opened up the dining room and converted into a bunk room and we were so happy to do that, but we have to have the kind of support to be able to do it and so when we hear a bad weather report it's anxiety producing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Bob?
BOB McELROY: We have reached out to the goes to the Valley Center to the Embarcadero and bridges and things like that. We do not reach everyone but the key is to try to save as many people as you can. It's called on the street in the summertime. I make my staff spent the night in the street and it's cold on the concrete it doesn't matter how much cardboard newspaper or plastic you have, it radiates into your bones and people get sick. Like I said the cost of doing something, far outweighs the cost of doing nothing something proactive and trying to get out there and keep as many people from getting sick as possible is going to save everybody.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are local churches. Have the local churches opened their doors?
BOB McELROY: They should. I didn't see any church buses coming down and that's a whole other issue if you've got an hour and a half I will tell you all about it. They should. There are gymnasiums and some of the churches I know that the church buses that could take people in. You know when you see ice on people's gear in San Diego, it's cold.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The city of San Diego is not the only County with homeless population joining me on the line is Beth Hallock with Operation open the North County. Beth, what was the situation like there this weekend?
BETH HALLOCK: Well, it's very very cold we are currently building a new facility so we did not have any beds available but we do have several families in a hotel voucher program and we are grateful that the program exists so that we can build the facility and still get some families in off the street and out of the cold.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You have had for a couple years now a program of various places for temporary shelter. Did any of that taken?
BETH HALLOCK: Our shelter we actually leased the facility during the winter season, we moved out of the facility in April, but there is a rotational shelter and they did taken some extra people as I understand it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So basically the cold snap are you in between having a really good up and running temporary facility and the permanent center that is supposed to be opening in Vista, is that right?
BETH HALLOCK: Yes that is we were caught in the middle and has listed his anxiety producing and heartbreaking because you know there are families and children who are in bushes, in cars are not being helped and not being warm and safe, and that is heartbreaking.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joel Roberts is something of a similar situation happening with the permanent winter shelter in downtown San Diego. You are almost ready to open, but not quite.
JOEL ROBERTS: Yes we are a couple weeks out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So how, tell me what that does to you when something like this happens. When there is this need that is just imminent and you can do anything about it.
JOEL ROBERTS: Of course we would love to open the doors now so we can help people believe that working for a year six days a week, for housing is the lead developer and is a construction company and they've been working six days a week, they've been putting 100 workers out there because we know we are trying to get this thing open for the winter.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So tell me, when is the permanent shelter supposed to be opening downtown, now?
JOEL ROBERTS: Connections and housing will open we will start phasing people in at the end of the month. It's 223 beds, 89 of them are apartments. I think it's important for people to understand that this cold weather should be a reminder to our community that we don't want to just tell people when it is cold, but we want to provide permanent solutions and that is apartments and services and that's what connections housing does.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Beth tell me about the permanent facility in this step. How many people willing thousand what kind of services will be available?
BETH HALLOCK: We have 46 beds 26 sleeping rooms, each family will have its own room so they will have privacy to recover their lives and we are building a facility that has a dining room multipurpose hall and shower him about how we have case management that enables, and empowers people to look for jobs, look for housing, get into any sort of recovery program that they need whether it be economic or some other sort of recovery. And we help facilitate all of that. We have classes that come in throughout the season for interview skills and, for art therapy, for children's therapy that, you know the children are caught in the middle and their family is homeless. There's a lot of scars that can be developed so we concentrate on getting her parents back on the road to recovery and permanent housing programs. And putting a Band-Aid and helping to heal some of the scar so that we stop the cycle.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Joel I know you have been taking applications for the permanent downtown shelter. What qualifications are you looking for?
JOEL ROBERTS: We have average teams downtown on the streets of San Diego since April and really to people who are very vulnerable on the streets, then on the streets for a long time in the downtown area who may be sick, who just really need housing now, and not a year from now, but today.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bob, you work with the homeless downtown for many years now, I'm wondering, have you basically connected with Julian said you know there are a couple people that really need facility. I need you to
BOB McELROY: We are partners in the connection housing project. We are doing the inter (inaudible) for shelter beds where people come in and transfer into the supported housing program and we will do so a lot of those people through the day center which has over 7000 members and about 600 people there on a daily basis so we've been working together for probably two years now to make this happen and as Joe said we will get the most vulnerable first and those with the greatest need first, obviously everyone has any but the most disabled the most from and get there first and start the process.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Go ahead, Joel
JOEL ROBERTS: In fact if anybody needs housing or service they will go to Neil Good day which overruns and they will prefer them to the program.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you made those decisions about who will be in a permanent housing?
JOEL ROBERTS: There's 223 beds and we've already lined up 300 people's we are prioritizing the most vulnerable of the list.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bob a lot has been made about their about 200 beds in the shelter, and the need is much greater. How do you see that resolving itself? You've got hundreds of people who need help.
BOB McELROY: I'm very hopeful. I just met with the mayor and his fiancée again, and they've been down, very active in the shelter and the data center and I'm very hopeful in the next couple of months maybe even weeks you will see something dramatic happening here in San Diego.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you give us an idea of what that problem might be?
BOB McELROY: I wish I could but I'm the most excited, the most hopeful that I've been in 26 years of doing this. That something very impactful is down the road here for these folks that we are going to be able to help a lot more people than we hope today.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: For instance the city of San Diego said today with a permanent shelter does open in March sometime this year they did plan to provide any extra beds for the wintertime. Is that something that you, that mindset, do you expect it to change in any way?
BOB McELROY: And about that facility because the facility is located in the core Columbia area there, and so one of the issues that we've been working on for two years this we mitigate people congregating in the neighborhood especially when it's in a high-profile business environment that's why we are having people transition., Or distilled for the Neil good the center because the people are already there. But everybody sucks about in emergency situations and you never know.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joel?
JOEL ROBERTS: There are 9000 people homeless in San Diego County for thousand of them live on the streets. One program that's building 223 beds is not the only solution so the only solution is if other communities take responsibility to take care of those people and their neighbors that are on the streets. So our hope is that this is a model that is successful query actually reduce the number of people on the streets. So the neighbors benefit, that other neighborhoods would say yes we need to do the same.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will you come on and tell us what the initiative is when that is announced and explained?
BOB McELROY: I'm sure the mayor will announce it. I will let him be the bearer of good news I think but I just think proactive Bob Filner, he gets it. He's been down the streets for the 25 years that I know him and even when he was in Congress. He's one sees that he sees common sense solutions to the issue rather than building another layer of bureaucracy he will go after them solve the problem.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to round out the discussion here it is supposed to warm up toward the end of the week but winter is not over, okay. So, in the time around now and the time the permanent housing shelter opened, just more blankets, just more plastic?
BOB McELROY: We will take everything plastic, blankets, socks if you've got something warm just bring it down, we don't do any through stores which is bring everything away which could be a challenge this is the first time in during the winter shelter that the storage container is empty.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Beth when do you expect operational children to open in North County?
BETH HALLOCK: We expected to open on Sunday or Monday this coming week. We're going to be moving in this weekend getting the occupancy certificate and getting organized so we can have claims by the weekend.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay want to thank everyone and been speaking with Bob McElroy, Joel Roberts or is present and Beth Hallock, thank you all very much for speaking with us.
BOB McELROY: Thanks Maureen.
BETH HALLOCK: Thank you.