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City Considers Year-Round Shelter


The city of San Diego is in the early stages of creating a year-round homeless shelter downtown.

— The city of San Diego is in the early stages of creating a year round homeless shelter downtown. All of the people and organizations involved agree something needs to be done about the hundreds of homeless people living on the streets. But what to do and how are unresolved questions.

It’s a quiet weekday morning in Downtown San Diego’s East Village. At a playground inside the public area of Petco Park a woman and young boy run around and play on the equipment. Nearby a man lies sleeping face down on the grass.

Caryl Iseman points at the man and shakes her head. She’s owned a home in the neighborhood since 1999 and is the President of EVCAN, the East Village Community Action Network. She says people who live in the neighborhood put up with the homeless treating streets like toilets, sleeping anywhere they want and being drunk in public. She says there must to be a better way to coexist.

“The homeless don’t have anymore rights than the people that bought in here, that are trying to make the neighborhood better. The homeless really don’t have a home, so they don’t have stakes to East Village,” she says.

Iseman says she’s sympathetic to the problems of the homeless, many of whom have substance abuse problems and mental illnesses. Iseman believes the city should help them, but says a homeless person can take their belongings and go somewhere else if they want. Business and homeowners can’t. But many in the homeless population aren’t moving away from Downtown. Instead many are camping out on city streets. In San Diego, because there aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate them, the homeless are allowed to sleep on public property between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. without fear of being ticketed by the police.

“I don’t think anyone wants to have to sleep on a sidewalk.” City Councilman Kevin Faulconer represents the downtown area and has been leading the effort to create a shelter and service center downtown. It’s commonly called a one stop shop. The city has issued a request for proposals for the center, basically inviting social service agencies to submit their ideas for what the center might look like.

Faulconer says he imagines it would have some emergency beds and would provide a variety of services to help people transition into permanent supportive housing. But he says the service center isn’t the ultimate solution for the region.

“It’s not envisioned to be the solution for the entire city, far from it. It’s designed to be something that will work from Downtown and can be replicated in other parts of the city and other cities throughout the county,” he says.

But even if it’s only targeted to the urban core, a year round shelter is not going to be cheap. An agency would need to come up with land where the center could be located. The Center City Development Corporation is putting $10 million toward the effort, but that might not cover the entire expense. There is the possibility of using land the city already owns. City officials are also encouraging different agencies to partner up to make their proposals more viable. But Bob McElroy says San Diego doesn’t need a permanent structure to solve the problem. He’s the president of the Alpha Project which runs the city’s temporary winter homeless shelter.

“The last thing we need right now in San Diego is another skyscraper or monolith built to warehouse homeless people,” he says.

Instead, McElroy proposes putting up three temporary structures in an empty lot on Island Street for the next three years. He says that would be enough to help the 600 to 800 homeless people he estimates live downtown. (Story continues below)

Site of San Diego's 2008-2009 Winter Homeless Shelter

The dirt lot located on Island Avenue and 16th St. in downtown San Diego's East Village, served as the temporary winter homeless shelter in 2008-2009.

“It would give us an opportunity to triage, assess and place people in the programs. But after three years you’re not going to backfill another 800 or 900 people on the streets. You don’t need a permanent facility that’s going to serve 500 or 600 people for the next 20 years. There’s just not that many homeless people out there,” he says.

McElroy says San Diego needs to put out a message that it’s not an open city for homeless people to discourage more from coming here. The proposals for creating a new shelter and service center are due on June 22nd. Councilman Faulconer says the issue could be taken up by the full council before the end of the year.

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