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Proposed Location for S.D. Winter Homeless Shelter Draws Concerns

The San Diego City Council is poised put its winter homeless shelter back in Barrio Logan, in spite of the community's all-out attempt to have it moved. Councilmembers wrestled with the issue and then

The San Diego City Council is poised put its winter homeless shelter back in Barrio Logan, in spite of the community's all-out attempt to have it moved. Councilmembers wrestled with the issue and then postponed a decision. KPBS reporter Alison St. John has more.

It may seem like summer still, but it's surprising how little time there is before the winter shelter is due to open in November. This year, there are strong protests from the community where the winter shelter has been for the past nine years. Barrio Logan community leader Rachel Ortiz brought a petition with 500 signatures, and begged the council to find a new location.

Ortiz:  How can our government continue doing this to us? You must move it. You have to have the will.

The winter shelter tent has been pitched on 16th and Newton -- it's on the edge of downtown, close to social services, but just a few hundred feet away from Perkins Elementary school. Thirteen-year-old Nathan Garido did a very credible job of reading his protest script.

Garido: I urge you to think this over seriously. The homeless need our support but we cannot help them if it means intruding on our school community.

City Councilman Ben Hueso, who began his campaign to have the shelter moved last year, pulled out a new weapon -- state law.

Hueso: I truly believe that if somebody is hurt by a sexual predator that is housed at this facility that we will be responsible, cause we have a very clear law, Proposition 83, that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park where kids are situated.

The mayor's office came up with two alternative sites -- on Midway in Point Loma and in the parking lot of the old Navy Hospital in Balboa Park. The Balboa Park site doesn't have access to electricity, and Navy Captain Mark Patton came out to protect his territory on Midway. He said a winter shelter would affect 2,500 civilians who go to work there every day.


Patten: That will have a direct impact on my command, and it's going to cost the Navy approximately a quarter of a million dollars to increase security, and again we were not consulted on this proposal.

Point Loma already hosts a winter shelter for homeless Veterans, and dug in its heals at accepting a second facility.

Finding himself handling a political hot potato, Councilman Jim Madaffer chose to lash out at the mayor's staff.

Madaffer: I can’t fathom there are only three sites in the entire city of San Diego. I mean give me a break. There's nothing new, we don't have the benefit of new information, and that's why we approve a budget each year to approve a budget to go out and get the darn information. 

The council narrowly avoided rejecting the three proposed sites, after Jamie Bradford of the mayor's staff warned she couldn't promise to come up with anywhere better.

Bradford: I would like to add that if we reject the three sites, I cannot promise that we're going to come back and find additional sites that meet the physical restraints of a winter shelter.

So in the end, Councilwoman Donna Frye proposed an age old solution -- postpone a decision for five weeks. By mid-October, it will be virtually impossible to site a shelter anywhere else and have it open on time.

Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project which runs the winter shelter says he's planning to open November first.

McElroy: It's easier to put up a dog shelter than one for people. Doesn't matter where you put it. You put it in the desert and the sand dune people would be after you. It’s never right place for it.  I know most of these people, most of them are senior citizens, and it’s pathetic.

The city has managed to come up with the money to help keep the winter shelter open this year, but only by transferring property -- a one time solution. The pressure is on to find more sustainable funding and a permanent location to shelter San Diego's homeless. Alison St John, KPBS News.