Update: Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy says the temporary winter homeless shelter will not be opening Monday, Nov. 19 as expected. He hopes it will be open by Thanksgiving.
Originally published November 15, 2012 at 6 a.m., updated November 15, 2012 at 2 p.m.
Bob McElroy, President and CEO, The Alpha Project.
Dolores Diaz, Executive Director, Regional Task Force On The Homeless, San Diego County.
San Diego's winter shelter was scheduled to open Monday, Nov. 19, but its opening has now been delayed, according to Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy.
"We're praying that we'll be open by Thanksgiving," he told KPBS Midday. "But right now it looks like we're going to have to have a miracle to do that."
He said working with a new contractor, not Veterans Village San Diego as in years past, delayed the opening.
"Hopefully, God willing, it doesn't rain," he said.
McElroy said the shelter is filled up for the first night with a waiting list of hundreds.
“We take disable and seniors and women first and the most in need among the population, and then as we transition those people out, we put new people in," said McElroy.
McElroy is expecting 800 people to transition through the four-month shelter -- a fraction of the county's 10,000 homeless.
"For example, we’ll have 80 year old ladies that are getting $600 a month on full Social Security, so we try to keep them in there the whole 120 days so they can save up their money to get into a supportive housing program," said McElroy.
Other people are transitioned from the shelter into traditional housing or treatment programs.
"So the idea is to find out what their specific needs are and then get them into programs to address those needs," McElroy said.
Rising Homeless Population
Snapshot of San Diego County's homeless population over the past four years shows a 24 percent increase.
San Diego County's homeless population has increased nearly 13 percent over the past two years, according to the "point-in-time" homeless count by the Regional Taskforce on the Homeless.
Taskforce Executive Director Dolores Diaz said a recent survey on the unsheltered homeless population revealed disturbing statistics.
“Thirty-two percent of them are college graduates with a four year degree, and 21 percent of veterans surveyed had PTSD," said Diaz. "A very, very high percentage, I want to say 69 percent of them, had been homeless a year or more.”
San Diego County Homelessness
Diaz is gearing up for the annual homeless count set for January 25, 2013, and recruiting 700 volunteers to assist. She said the upcoming count will include special efforts to count homeless youth.
"We really need to know more," said Diaz. "Where they are, approximately how many we’re talking about, why are they homeless? What are the services that they need? Are they in school?"
Diaz said homeless youth tend to hide more.
"So we’re trying to engage some of the youth that are receiving services now to help us count those that are unsheltered."
Diaz said the annual count and surveys help craft more programs to eliminate the problem.
A handful of other shelters will open around the county this month, but still, more than 5,000 homeless people will sleep on streets on any given night this winter.
Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane, Claire Trageser and Peggy Pico contributed to this report.