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One-Stop Service Center For Homeless In Los Angeles A Model For San Diego

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Aired 7/14/10

San Diego City Council’s Land Use and Housing committee is scheduled to vote today the one-stop homeless services proposed for the World Trade Center building. The center would be the city’s first permanent homeless shelter. The proposal is modeled on a center called the PATHMall in Los Angeles.

San Diego City Council's Land Use and Housing committee is scheduled to vote today the one-stop homeless services proposed for the World Trade Center building. The center would be the city's first permanent homeless shelter. The proposal is modeled on a center called the PATHMall in Los Angeles.

The PATHMall in Los Angeles.
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Above: The PATHMall in Los Angeles.

Most people go to the mall for the sake of convenience. You can buy the pants you need for work, the book your child needs for school and new towels all in one place.

The PATHMall operates under pretty much the same premise. But instead of stores, it houses services for people working to get out of homelessness. It's run by People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH.

Without leaving the main lobby community investment officer Jeremy Sidell can point to the mall's main services.

Mental health care, a job center, a health clinic, homelessness prevention services. Even a beauty salon.

Before being hooked up with one of these services someone coming to the mall for the first time will meet with a case manager, like Ray Tucker.

"Most of the things that happen in the mall start in the access center," Tucker said. "That's where we do our initial assessments of people who come in for services. And that's where we start facilitating their progress toward alleviating their homelessness."

Once someone is matched with a service, other case managers help that person progress.

John Chaplow is a case manager for the mall's transitional housing program. He said the fact people at the mall are stabilizing their lives is what sets it apart from traditional emergency shelters.

"This program's a little more structured, in that the people that come here - there's something expected of them," he said. "This is kind of the step after they've gotten in the swing of things working on their sobriety, their mental health, employment, all that kind of stuff. They come here to start to do the real work which would be the right before getting back into what we would consider sort of a normal, functioning life."

Having all of the services someone might need in a single building makes doing that hard work easier. Monique Sierra has been coming to the mall since a priest gave her the phone number a little more than a year ago.

Today Sierra is using the personal care center where clients can get hair cuts, facials and manicures.

"I speak with the drug and alcohol counselor almost every day, I get my mail here. Sometimes I come to charge my phone. I also receive mental health service here, that's the biggest part. They put me on medication and the medication has helped me to make wiser decisions," she said.

After three years of homelessness Sierra said she is slowly but surely making progress.

"One of the goals was to be eligible for social security and I got that a couple of months ago. So now I just have to save up and look for a place," she said.

PATH CEO Joel Roberts said supporting clients like Sierra in finding places of their own is more than an act of charity.

"We look at it as more of a business approach where our product is to actually help people get off the streets and get in to permanent housing," he said. "Because if that product is effective then everybody wins, the person who is living on the streets as well as the neighborhood."

When the mall was built eight years ago Roberts said there was a tent city along the 101 freeway next to the site. Today there is no visible homeless population on the blocks surrounding the building.

The Land Use and Housing committee was first scheduled to vote on the proposed center in April. They delayed that vote to gather more public input.

Some downtown business owners and resident have opposed the project saying it would only draw more homeless people to the area. Roberts thinks they could expect to see results more in line with what has happened in Los Angeles.

"I mean, there are businesses in downtown San Diego that are freaked out because they think that there's going to be more people who are homeless," Roberts said. "But with 246 people to 300 people within a quarter of a mile of these businesses, homelessness is affecting their businesses already. And if we can take half of those people off the street or two-thirds of those people off the streets then we make that neighborhood and that community better."

If approved today the one-stop proposal would go to the full council for a final vote.

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