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Moving San Diego Homeless From Tents To Permanent Housing Slow But Steady

March 2, 2018 10:32 a.m.

Moving San Diego Homeless From Tents To Permanent Housing Slow But Steady

GUEST:

Bob McElroy, CEO, Alpha Project

Related Story: Moving San Diego Homeless From Tents To Permanent Housing Slow But Steady

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.

This is Mid-Day. Today marks three months since the opening of the city of San Diego's first large tent shelter. A reporter tells us hundreds of homeless people living under the big gray down are finding healing and a fresh start. Some may end up living there longer than expected.
>> It is just after breakfast. This man goes down a long center aisle inside the homeless tent. He passes row after row of metal framed bunkbeds draped in blankets. Some of his 323 new roommates and their 100 companion pets are still sleeping. He, like most here, comes from years of surviving on the streets, lugging belongings in a cart and struggling with mental illness. The majority of his bunkmate are over the age of 50. A dozen are college students, 60 our veterans, if you have full-time jobs. This man has left and a click right through a maze of mostly friendly faces and arrived near the canvas wall to his bottom bunk, bed number 194.
>> This is my bunk here. It is better than no bunk at all.
>> It is the first time in 20 years he has had the comfort of a mattress and a shower.
>> They feed you, they take care of you, they make sure nobody believes you.
>> There is also on-site medical care, addiction treatment, and counseling. Life is about to get better for this man who grew up in foster care. He is moving into permanent housing.
>> I believe this is winning the lottery. I have been up there for a long long time.
>> He is one of the lucky ones. Of the 720 people that stated the shelter and the three months since it opened, just 42 have moved into permanent housing.
>> When I first heard about it, I did the happy dance.
>> His chronic homelessness and disabilities put him near the very top of the very long list.
>> These are the people that are the most sick. They are the most risk and the most vulnerable.
>> The CEO manages the tent, it is called a bridge shelter. It is funded by the city of San Diego.
>> Are people live here in peace and in dignity. We are so grateful.
>> The idea is to provide a three or four month date way for people to get into permanent housing. This is the agreed-upon solution to end homelessness. The subsidized spaces are single rooms are motel units, they write about 800 or $1000 a month.
>> Everybody is asking, their expectation is to get a house. Everyone here wants that. When am I going to get a house?
>> This is a question he cannot answer.
>> There is not enough. Everybody knows that. We have to be flexible enough to say that the expectation is that we are not going to be able to house everyone. What is next?
>> People are reunited with family, those with enough income received temporary rental assistance. People without income who are on the list for permanent housing may have an extended tape state in the tent.
>> They want something better but this is better than the bricks. Everybody is in a holding pattern.
>> There are many who will likely never escape homelessness.
>> There is a whole population that are so shot out, they need assisted-living and it does not exist. They are so mentally ill.
>> The team never gives up trying to help. Housing navigator help works with a team inside the tent to match people to service providers or landlords when a permanent unit becomes available.
>> We also do not want to just place them in housing and have it not work out. We do not want to enter the revolving door cycle.
>> Clients with histories of evictions or prior criminal offenses can be challenging.
>> Everybody goes through tough times. It is really cool to be able to get a hand up and help out.
>> He works with 10 people at a time in the rigorous process. He helped Joseph who is having a hard time realizing he will soon have a place of event.
>> I know what is going to happen. I do not think I will believe it until I am there. I will be there on the floor rolling around in circles.
>> He will do everything he can to make a new beginning. Susan Murphy, KPBS news.
>>
>>
>> Joining me now is the CEO of the nonprofit alpha project which manages the 10th shelter at 16th Street and Avenue. Welcome to the show.
>> Great to be back.
>> We talk about the lack of affordable housing in San Diego and the long wait for people to get into section 8 housing. Homeless people in housing poses its own challenges. What have you and your team been hearing from landlords about shelter residents moving into their properties?
>> We have a huge stereotype. We are where bag ladies, thanks to divers, panhandlers, dumpster divers live. Some of those things are true and not true. Some of those things are stereotypes. We need to get landlords to trust us enough to give us an opportunity. We have been very fortunate we have been able to do that in many cases. It is still a challenge. It is hard enough to get normal people that have jobs and have good credit and had education in these type of things. It is hard enough for them to pay the rent. It is hard for them to be good tenants. You can see the challenge that we have. We are doing it.
>> Yes, you have been able to find housing for 42 people. The other shelter towns have only housed three people. Is this a wake-up call to officials about how difficult it is to secure permanent housing for the homeless?
>> We have been saying that from the very beginning. It does not exist. People talk about affordable housing. Affordable housing does not apply to us. Affordable housing in San Diego is $2000 a month. Low income housing is 450 or $500 a month, that does not exist. One of the other things that made us successful is we ask our tenants to be part of the solution. They have canvassed neighborhoods and gone to find their own places. If you hate -- if you can find something that has a shingle on the window that says for rent, bring that information back to us. We will engage with the landlord. It has been successful.
>> You house about 320 people yet 720 people have cycle through since it has been open. Can you tell us about how that works? Why do people come in and why did they leave without securing housing?
>> We have had far more that have gone to something positive than negative which is back in the streets. One of the things they do not count as housing, we have had quite a few young people that have moved into transitional housing. Some people have gone to treatment programs. Lots of people have gone home. They have also gone somewhere else around the county or left the city in the state. Some people save enough money. We have 10 or 15% of the people who are working jobs every day at shipyards and Walmart and around town. They have secured their own housing, unsubsidized. We have people who do get a disability check or some kind of income that have been saving their money and securing their own housing. It is a very fluid environment down here. We are very proud active. As I always say, it is a far less burden on the taxpayer to have people inside and outside.
>> Some people seem to be beyond the reach of the shelter.
>> Yes. That is a dirty little secret nobody ever talks about. There is probably 10% of the population that are so mentally ill, they do not fit in anywhere. Even in our housing programs that have all of the wraparound service -- services, the case management. They still cannot fit into independent living. They fled their rooms. They are violent many times when they're having a bad day. Those are the folks that used to be in institutions or assisted-living. That does not even exist anymore. These folks, this segment of the population is destined to die on the streets. It is pitiful. It is tragic.
>> There is a new program that started this week where shelter residents are paid minimum wage to clean up downtown., The shelter residents are included in that?
>> Yes. This has been so fun. They are actually out there today. Just over half of the time to residents are signed up to get on. We are starting it slowly, a couple days a week. We have already got people putting in additional funds. We are getting another van. Just to see the self-esteem, the self-worth, the purpose, the value, it is amazing. Just by giving somebody an opportunity to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, breaking stereotypes, it is great. We are having residences and businesses, out. They are saying thank you for cleaning up the neighborhood. Are people have always been marginalized and considered irrelevant. Those people are now seeing out there in their bright the cleaning up neighborhoods. Maybe someday they will be able to live in those neighborhoods. We are breaking down a lot of barriers.
>> The shelters have only been given the go-ahead for about six months. We are going to need them longer than that, are we not?
>> Absolutely [ Laughter ] you know, the grand total per day cost for our people is $36. You go see if you can adopt a cat or a dog for 36 dollars a day. You know, there are a lot of people out there. There are citizens against everything. There will always people who do not do anything for anybody else. The reality here is having 324 people inside as opposed to outside is tremendous. It is a tremendous humanitarian thing to do. It is also a tremendous tax savings for the tax payers. We are saving millions of dollars. Just people having access to their own refrigerators, people who are diabetic and refrigerate their insulin and they cannot do this on the street. The call for emergency services has gone way down.
>> Thank you so much for coming.
>> Thank you. [ Music ]