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County OKs Looking Into Shelter For Asylum Seekers

January 9, 2019 1:42 p.m.

GUEST: Michael Hopkins, CEO, Jewish Family Service of San Diego

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Related Story: County OKs Looking Into Shelter For Asylum Seekers


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.

While the president says there is a border crisis. Democrats say the real challenge is large groups of women and children waiting to go through the legal process of seeking asylum. For months there have been calls from advocates to find a permanent shelter in San Diego. Now the county Board of Supervisors is taking steps to do just that. Here's newly sworn in county supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

When the reality is we have the capacity to help. We have the ability to help. And I think setting aside humanitarian issues and moral issues I think we have the obligation to help.

Yesterday the board voted to look for properties that could shelter migrants and also establish a task force to address short and long term solutions. I'm joined by Michael Hopkins the chief executive officer with Jewish Family Service. Michael thanks for joining us. Thank you. So the Jewish Family Service is part of the Rapid Response Network which runs a local migrant shelter that's been over capacity well the supervisors recent action make a difference in your efforts to shelter migrants.

Now we were really pleased by the by the actions yesterday and the favorable vote on the four different points. We think that it will begin to move the needle in terms of publicly getting the county more deeply involved I mean the county has been involved over the last month. They've been sending their public health nurses and social workers to help us to intakes but this felt like yesterday felt like an opportunity or a moment where the county really was saying we recognize this crisis is beyond what the NGOs can do and that we have to get involved.

And I understand the shelter has had to move locations several times why has it been so difficult to find permanent shelter.

The numbers have changed dramatically so in the very beginning there would be 40 50 people than there would be 100 people right around the Christmas holidays. We had some evenings where there were 180 people who were dropped off. And so finding a shelter that that could meet our needs. We actually in the beginning didn't know what our needs were and then in some of the communication that we had with Border Patrol and ICE we were told that there could be upwards of to 300 people a night. And so we kept looking for spaces that we thought could meet our needs.

Earlier you were saying that there's been a recent slowdown. So there has been a slowdown this week has been relatively slow. For example last night we had 16 families that was about 41 individuals. That's far less than the 80 to 100 that we were seeing nightly. We're not sure whether this slowdown is a result of the partial government shutdown or whether it's because of this policy potentially keeping asylum seekers on the other side of the border and having them wait in Mexico while they're there waiting for their case.

And now last week San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer sent a letter to state officials asking them to look at a former County Juvenile Detention Center that's owned by the city as a possible location for a migrant shelter up in Alpine. What can you tell us about the status of that request.

So we're open to any idea. I mean like we we actually know that after the first week in February we need to get it we need to be out of our current location. And so. So any idea is a good idea. And so I'm looking at Camp Barrett and Alpine is an interesting option. We have a team going out there on Friday to look at the facility. We're not sure what kind of condition it's in and whether it's really ready to go. We are concerned it's not the most ideal location.

Most of our work is to take individuals to the bus station to the airport. It's obviously much further and much of our operation right now is currently dependent on large numbers of volunteers. And so you know having a shelter in Alpine is a little off the beaten path although frankly any shelter at this point is better than no shelter because sometime in February without a shelter we're going to be in a situation with migrants not being able to be housed. But my understanding is is that although the mayor did communicate to the state their willingness to make the facility available that is not a completely done deal.

So we're still exploring what yesterday's meeting Supervisor Dianne Jacob voted no on the proposal to find places to house migrants.

I can't help to think what about our homeless veterans that are on the street. They're our own people. And I looked up some statistics and it's kind of alarming to me because I think we've done a lousy job in dealing with our own.

How do you respond to members of the public who share Jacob's sentiment that there are hundreds of homeless San Diego ins on the streets. Now why should local government spend money and resources on migrants when we've got a homeless problem.

You know there's probably no issue that I'm more passionate about than homelessness. I also as the CEO of Jewish Family Service I sit on the board of the regional task force for the homeless so and we're a homeless provider here in San Diego and so I understand that perspective. I live in a neighborhood where I see homeless every day wherever I walk. It is a significant is probably the human service issue facing San Diego and so I completely agree with supervisor Jacobs. And so we can we can say that we have a homeless problem and we do have a homeless problem and we need to address that.

But the numbers are such. We've already served about 4500 individuals since we've started in the last two months. I mean even if even if 20 or 30 per day slip through the cracks that would at such a rapid rate increase our homeless population here in San Diego. And so this is a bit of preemptive or preventive work and it's probably as critical. And you know the county is sitting on resources. We know that and we heard Nathan Fletcher talk about that it's you know that the county does have the capacity if they want it to and so I appreciate your perspective and I actually appreciate a meeting.

Any time we can call attention to the needs of homeless.

And what about funding have you security enough funding to keep the shelter going.

You know I'm glad you asked that question so from from the very beginning there were two sides to this coin. There was we needed a space and we needed funding and space without a funding isn't ideal and funding without spaces doesn't work and so there's just like two parts of the puzzle. And so yesterday when the supervisors said you know we'll help find space that's a really critical issue. We still need space but we still need funding. Funding is a really critical part of this. Running a shelter is expensive it's a 24/7 operation.

It's about probably between 300000 if not plus per month. We have the state has made some dollars available for case management. We've raised about 700000 dollars through foundations and individual donors but this is not a way to run a sheltered you know like to be out there actively trying to raise money at the same time that we're trying to take care of folks. So we do need funding we're hopeful that potentially this week or in the coming weeks that the new governor will will announce that there's some funding coming our way. But in terms of your question in terms of the future it's really difficult to figure out what the short mid and long term plan is.

What is clear that this is San Diego and we're a border town. Largest border crossing in the world. It's actually kind of interesting to note that there is no asylum seeking shelter no migrants shelter on this side of the border. I think what this crisis has helped us see is the lack of of that type of facility here in San Diego. I mean there will always be asylum seekers coming across this border and we probably need to think long term.

I've been joined by Michael Hopkins the chief executive officer with Jewish Family Service.

Michael thanks so much.