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San Diego Homeless Struggle In Rainy Weather

A woman wraps herself in a blanket in downtown San Diego, Jan. 6, 2016.

Aired 1/7/16 on KPBS Midday Edition.

San Diego Homeless Struggle In Rainy Weather


Bob McElroy, president & CEO, The Alpha Project

Todd Gloria, San Diego City Councilman


Nearly 800 homeless people were hunkered down in tents and under plastic tarps in downtown San Diego on Wednesday, the region's second day of heavy El Niño rains.

Bob McElroy, president of the nonprofit Alpha Project, said his organization was distributing blankets, sheets of plastic and clothes to the homeless.

"We're doing the best we can to help as many people as we can," McElroy said.

Dozens of people hunker down in tents on 16th Street in downtown San Diego awaiting another round of forecasted torrential rains, Jan. 6, 2016.

Alpha Project administered San Diego's winter tents until they were permanently taken down on April 1 last year.

The city replaced the tents with year-round indoor beds administered by Father Joe's Village. That homeless organization also began an inclement weather emergency shelter service, which opened for the first time last week.

Yana Titova, spokeswoman for Father Joe's Village, said the organization opened its emergency shelter again Tuesday night, despite the weather conditions not meeting its criteria of being below 50 degrees and having at least a 40 percent chance of rain.

Father Joe's was not planning on opening the beds Wednesday night, "because the weather still doesn’t meet the criteria and is predicted to be more mild," Titova said.

San Diego is still short hundreds of beds for the homeless, McElroy said. Some homeless also decline to stay in the beds that do exist because they don't want to leave behind their belongings or pets. To stay at Father Joe's, they have to do that.

"I'm just hoping that maybe the light will go on somewhere and we can find — maybe it's even a warehouse somewhere — where we can actually bring people in on a 24-hour basis," he said.

The city council voted last March to replace the winter tents, in an effort to provide more comprehensive services to the homeless.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer spokesman Craig Gustafson said in an email that the change provides shelter "indoors with supportive services — consistent with national best practices — as opposed to in outdoor tents with no services." He added that homeless people live in tents downtown throughout the year, regardless of the weather.

Councilman Todd Gloria represents downtown and spearheaded the change from winter tents with Faulconer. He said the year-round shelter has connected hundreds of homeless in the past year to support services when the winter tents would not have been open.

"While I remain troubled that so many people remain homeless, I am proud that the cycle of homelessness has been broken for some," Gloria said in an e-mail. "Taxpayer money is housing more people for less cost with more services year round in a warm building than we formerly spent for a few weeks in a cold tent."

Rain and flash flood warnings are expected to continue this week.

Heavy El Niño rains this week have led to increased efforts to help homeless men, women and children find shelter.

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