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Father Joe Carroll Hopeful for Permanent Homeless Shelter

2008 could be the year the city of San Diego makes noticeable headway in its goal to end chronic homelessness. Or it could be another year that the homeless continue to be ticketed for sleeping on the

Father Joe Carroll Hopeful for Permanent Homeless Shelter

2008 could be the year the city of San Diego makes noticeable headway in its goal to end chronic homelessness. Or it could be another year that the homeless continue to be ticketed for sleeping on the streets when they really have no alternative. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on some of the hopeful signs that services for the homeless could improve this year.

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San Diego has signed on to the national campaign to end chronic homelessness -- to offer alternatives to those who show up at the winter shelter year after year, and then disappear back to the anonymity of the streets when the weather warms up again. 

Many advocates for the homeless say a permanent emergency shelter is an important part of the solution, and Father Joe Carroll believes he may have found a possible site. He says the board of Father Joe's Villages has agreed to purchase a plot of land east of Petco Park downtown, and he hopes the city will agree to pay for a permanent emergency shelter there.

Carroll: Cause they've been saying it for two years now they want to do solve the problem. Now it’s put up time or shut up time. We have the land, we have the site, put up the money. And we think CCDC and housing commission probably have some funds they can access to make this happen. 

Father Joe says the 40,000 square-foot site on the corner of 14th and Commercial street cost $7 million. His board agreed to borrow the money on the understanding that the land will be a good investment and could house up to 500 people if the city decides to cooperate.

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Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project which runs the city's winter shelter, says he has been talking with the city and private parties about funding a Central Intake. That's a one-stop-shop for people on the streets to get the services they need year round.

McElroy: You walk in the door and all my needs are met there and then the purpose of that facility is to provide a respite and an opportunity for people to transition to long term supportive housing, utilizing the network of organizations that are already in place.

McElroy says more than half the people who use the winter shelter are seniors, and too many people are dying on the streets. six people in the last eight weeks. He's working on a plan to provide hospice care for homeless on their last legs so they don't die alone.

McEroy says it's in the interests of the taxpayers to find solutions to homelessness. Studies show the chronically homeless cost San Diego taxpayers $200 million a year in emergency room visits, police, paramedics, fire, drug intervention and detox.

Charles Roem is one of the 220 men and woman sleeping in the winter shelter -- a big tent erected on the Petco parking lot on 14th street. He says the shelter is much more than juts a bed, it is a chance to get a foot hold on life's ladder again.

Roem:  Cause living out on the streets you can’t save any money because there's all the drugs and everything out there you know, and you try to relieve some of the pain so you depend on drugs and alcohol but here it’s alcohol and drug free and I haven't done any drinking or alcohols in a while and I'm looking very forward to getting my own place soon.

Roem hopes to build on his new found strength and save enough to find a place to live by March, when the Winter shelter closes. Those who have fallen on hard times in the last year may find three months is enough to get back on their feet.

But there are others in the tent who have greater hurdles than Roem to overcome -- years of depression, untreated mental illness or drug abuse -- people who need a more permanent base to make a change. That's what people like Father Jo Carroll and Bob McElroy hope to build this year. 

Alison St John, KPBS News.

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