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No Funding For Year-Round Homeless Shelters In San Diego

September 17, 2013 1:21 p.m.

GUESTS:

Rick Gentry, President/CEO, San Diego Housing Commission

Bob McElroy, President/CEO, Alpha Project

Jessica Wishan, Director, Path, San Diego Connections

Related Story: No Funding For Year-Round Homeless Shelters In San Diego

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is the time of year when the San Diego City Council would usually begin its annual debate about where to place the city's temporary winter homeless shelter. Luckily this is the first winter season where San Diego's permanent homeless shelter will be operational. But there's still a controversy about the shelters. Before he resigned, mayor Bob Filner allocated funds to keep the temporary winter shelter and the veterans' shelter open year-round in fiscal year 2015. But the interim mayor says the funds are inadequate.

[ AUDIO RECORDING ]

NEW SPEAKER: Mr. Filner allotted insufficient funds to keep the shelters open year-round of the it's another example of a mess that is left by the previous administration that I must now clean up. I am working with the city staff and the housing commission, and we'll visit both shelters in the coming days to determine a path forward. While exploring additional funding option, solution, including examining the administrative costs of both shelters, it's important we recognize the possibility that these shelters may have to close in April.

CAVANAUGH: So the fate of those shelters is now up in the air, and that's created a great deal of uncertainty and concern. Joining me is Rick Gentry, welcome to the program.

GENTRY: Thank you for having plea.

CAVANAUGH: Jessica Wishan is director of Path: San Diego. Welcome to the show.

WISHAN: Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: And Bob McElroy is president of the Alpha Project in San Diego. Welcome,

MCELROY: Thanks.

CAVANAUGH: Bob, let me ask you first, I think it's hard to keep track of the number of shelters San Diego is juggling at this time. Break it down for us if you can, what is each of these shelters, and what are they supposed to do? Starting perhaps with Alpha.

MCELROY: Right. We have 225 men and women in there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and it's really a starting point, a launching pad for people to access any kind of services they can, it's become an integral part of the year-round facilities, keep people acclimated, detoxing from the street, literally and figuratively. And the veterans shelter has 150 men.

CAVANAUGH: And the permanent homeless shelter is Connections?

MCELROY: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm going to ask you more about that, Jessica. But bob, can actually actually come in off the streets and find a bed at Connections?

MCELROY: They transfer from the winter shelter program.

CAVANAUGH: From the winter shelter program.

MCELROY: Initially, the target population WAS around the core Connections facility. And it was an adventure, a lot of those folks were very good at transitioning people in the core housing. And now we have a really seamless program now with the winter shelter and the year-round shelter.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Rick, when did you first discover that there was not enough money budgeted to support two year-round shelters. And I'm speaking about the alpha project shelter and the veterans' shelter.

GENTRY: We first discovered the shortfall in funding in late to early June when we saw the city's budget projections for fiscal year 2014. And we knew then there wasn't enough money. We determined the amount of shortfall, and went over to the City Council indicating as such, and what we've determined is that there is enough money in the budget to provide for both those shelter activities.

CAVANAUGH: What did mayor Filner miss when he calculated the cost of keeping these shelters open year-long?

GENTRY: I wish I could tell you. It was not part of the conversation. We received a number.

CAVANAUGH: Was it operational costs? Was it the fact of how much the electricity is going to cost?

GENTRY: What the mayor's office did was to take numbers that were incomplete themselves, and projected those, and they did not cover some of the practical costs of the operations, utilities, maintenance on the shelter, on the at the points themselves, and some background basic administrative support costs.

CAVANAUGH: And what is the shortfall? How much money?

GENTRY: It's a little in excess of $1 million.

CAVANAUGH: What role does the housing commission play in providing support to the formerly temporarily and hopefully year-round shelters?

GENTRY: Well, this is a fairly new role for the housing commission. We asked mayor Sanders to step in and take over operation of the shelters in 2010. Prior to that, are the relationship between Alpha and Veteran Villages was done by the City Hall.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

GENTRY: If you look at the administrative process now -- not now, perhaps, but before the shortfall, versus what it was in 2008, 2009, when I arrived in town, we rationalized the process of debt. Those distressing city debates, the big one was in about between itself. We've been able to do things ahead of time, are and the shelters are operated in a rational fashion.

CAVANAUGH: Jessica, Who gets into connections, are the permanent shelter, and what help does it provide?

WISHAN: Many thanks to support from the San Diego Housing Commission. We have three types of housing within the shelter. We have 150 interim bed programs, that's a partnership with Alpha Project, and within the 150, there's 16 SRO units, which are also helped through housing subsidies. And then we have a subcontractor funding through the San Diego Housing Commission to Those operable. So depending on the type. Housing, the permanently housed residents are homeless, chronically homeless,ing and disabled. And 100% of the people coming through the program is done through our street outreach team, and there's a connection between the interim housing Connections with the downtown shelter tent.

CAVANAUGH: I think the original idea -- let me go to you first on this, Bob, when Connections opened, we wouldn't need temporary winter shelters or a veterans' shelter anymore. Was that a feasible idea?

MCELROY: Obviously not. We have over 900 people on the streets of San Diego. It only makes sense, economically, it's far more extense to do something than nothing. When the vast majority of our folks in the shelter, or the City of San Diego shelter, most of the folks are infirmed, most are trapped in some form of mental illness. Their primary care physician is the emergency room. Whether you care about homeless people or not, if you live in the bushes, you don't really see the program, it's still costing you money because somebody has to pick up the cost. And I thought the ball was moving in the right direction. And anyone with just a modicum of common sense can understand it's better to have 225 sick people indoors as opposed to outdoors. A lot of our folks are diabetics, they have to keep their insulin refrigerated, and you can't do that when you're homeless. We transitioned over to 12 hundred people, some people in long-term housing, some people go home, are find their own housing. So it's a tremendous asset. Plus when you're coming out of a plastic bag or a shopping cart, it's unrealistic to think you can get your life together from the bricks. You have to have a starting point. And that's the miracle of all these facilities.

CAVANAUGH: So what I'm understanding from you then is that what the temporary shelters are -- what you're hoping they remain doing is providing an engine, the first start to get people off the street, to get them stabilized so they can start the process through perhaps Connections, and onward to some different way of life.

MCELROY: Absolutely. And we've been preaching that for 27 years. But last year, I thought we were really moving in that direction. And I've talked to Todd Gloria and other council members and I hope we keep that momentum going forward. In LA, there's 50 thousand homeless people in LA. They've got a program. We can solve the problem here if we keep moving forward. People need to understand that having people on the streets surviving day to day is costing everybody hundreds of millions of dollars by doing nothing.

CAVANAUGH: What was your reaction when you heard about this shortfall?

MCELROY: I'm still in the reaction phase.

[ LAUGHTER ]

MCELROY: I have a bed reserve forward detox for me. I have to go down and tell people. They're scared. Especially our ladies, we turn away 40 people still every night. And they're scared. They don't want to go back. We have people that call, when they're on the street and there's no place for them to go, they'll call the paramedics for them not even being sick because they just want somebody to acknowledge the fact that they're human beings. And someone to talk to. I've been on the streets with people at night, and people drive by with BB guns and shoot homeless people. It's the right thing to do to offer people an opportunity for hope and give them that front door opportunity to transition out of homelessness.

CAVANAUGH: And Jessica, what's the impact -- the fact that Bob Filner and his office were big advocates for the homeless, since his resignation, what have you sensed from your own reaction and the people that you work with about the fact that he's not in control anymore?

WISHAN: I think we just keep our eye on the goal and remain committed. I think committed is the rain word. We want to end homelessness for the individual and the community. And we're going to keep moving forward.

CAVANAUGH: But have you sensed a reaction that there has been perhaps a little bit of confusion or dismay about it?

WISHAN: There's definitely talk. But we know that our work continues, and our residents are going to continue working toward their goals.

CAVANAUGH: Rick, we heard in that clip from Todd Gloria that his plan is to tour the shelters. Has he done so?

GENTRY: I don't believe so, but I do believe he has a schedule.

CAVANAUGH: What are some solutions that you might be considering or city leaders might be considering to this funding problem?

GENTRY: Well, the obvious answer is additional funding for this particular item. I'd like to point out though that the term homelessness itself is an umbrella term that covers a different result, that has a lot of different consequences. And there's a need for a whole menu of options to deal with it. The city, the Housing Commission already, most of it federal, toward dealing with this issue. The commission has targeted over 14,000 vouchers for homeless use, and we see that used both focused as Jessica indicated, in particular properties like the Connections housing, and with particular sponsors. The united way has had project 25 --

CAVANAUGH: We talked about that a lot on this program, yeah.

GENTRY: The downtown effort to alleviate homelessness. We've allotted 25 vouchers to that program. I think the answer is stopgap or interim or emergency, but there's no substitute for long-term permanent housing either.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think that the way to keep this funding or to find this funding may be in how well this continues to work? The people from the temporary shelter moving into the Connections shelter, and then sort of being able to get off the street or being able to control whatever mental or physical issue they have? Is that what's going to prove it do you think to the people who control the purse strings?

MCELROY: Absolutely. But we're still at the beginning point there. This has to be an inventory of places to move into. Connections is full, most of the shelters are full most of the time. We have to have an inventory of places for people to go where that housing exist, and right now it doesn't exist. You talk about what the reaction is, I'm still dealing with the reaction because as of three weeks ago, we thought both the facilities with 375 people, and we're going to be open year-round, and Bob wasn't even out of office yet, and we got a letter staying that wasn't going to be the case. After Todd comes down, he's been to the shelter numerous times, but -- and there's people with walk-around money, we need to get those people to the table. And we pay to do this. It costs $400 for people just to run the shelter program, and we're putting our precious dollars into running these city facilities. So it's not like we're out fundraising to fill our coffers, we're looking for money to keep the operation of the City of San Diego shelter program.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder if this concept, the proposal for the winter shelter and the veterans' shelter become year-round shelters, is that a game-changer in itself?

MCELROY: Absolutely. We've changed over 1200 people out of the streets. Of the vets are doing the same thing. How do you marginalize those numbers? We're talking about people that were homeless a year ago that aren't anymore because of those facilities. As I said, is it more beneficial to the statuses of San Diego to have hundreds of people off the street in a safe environment are as opposed to being on the street? I was in the Gas Lamp last weekend, and it was pathetic how many people were are all over the sidewalks in the Gas Lamp. We have to do something about it, and we can.

CAVANAUGH: Rick, when do you think we're going to find out whether or not they're going to find funding to keep these shelters year-round?

GENTRY: I think we'll have to see what comes from the council president and interim mayor Todd Gloria's visit, and what the council proposes.

CAVANAUGH: All right. I have to end it there.