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Winter Shelter Opening Delayed Until At Least Thanksgiving

People lay on beds in the winter shelter in downtown San Diego.
Ana Tintocalis/KPBS News
People lay on beds in the winter shelter in downtown San Diego.

Update: Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy says the temporary winter homeless shelter will not be opening Monday, Nov. 19 as expected. He hopes it will be open by Thanksgiving.

Winter Shelter Set To Open Amid Growing Homeless Population
GUESTSBob McElroy, President and CEO, The Alpha Project. Dolores Diaz, Executive Director, Regional Task Force On The Homeless, San Diego County.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, another November, another temporary winter homeless shelter opens in San Diego. Last year, we were told we'd seen the last of the temporary shelters. And in 2012, a permanent shelter would open its doors in downtown San Diego. That project has been delayed. The tent is going up in Barrio Logan, and advocates say the need is greater than ever. My guests, Bob McIlroy is president and CEO of alpha project. Welcome back. MCILROY: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Delores Diaz is executive director of the San Diego regional task force for the homeless. Welcome. DIAZ: My pleasure. CAVANAUGH: What is the status of the permanent shelter? MCILROY: When they got into the building, there was a lot more asbestos issues, and unforeseen things. The building is over 90 years old. But God willing, we're going to open the first week of January. CAVANAUGH: Okay. When that permanent shelter open, when kind of facilities tell have? MCILROY: It's going to be a 1-stop shop. A full medical clinic there, a full kitchen, 135 beds, 72 units of permanent supportive housing, and also a mall with assorted services for residents of the building. CAVANAUGH: So that number of beds again? MCILROY: 135. CAVANAUGH: Okay. CAVANAUGH: The temporary shelter which we had to open again this year because the permanent facility is not going to be online until the beginning of next year, the temporary shelter was supposed to be opening on Monday. MCILROY: No. [ LAUGHTER ] MCILROY: I'm laughing because I'm crying. We were supposed to be. We had a new contractor this year, VVSD decided they didn't want to do it this year, so we're kind of behind. Hopefully it doesn't rain, and we're praying that we'll be able to open before Thanksgiving, but I think we're going to have to have a miracle to do that. CAVANAUGH: I'm going to come back to that. Delores, give us an overview of what San Diego faces in dealing with people who are on the streets and homeless. The regional task force does a yearly count in San Diego. Of it's a snapshot on a particular day of the number of people who are living in San Diego without anywhere to go, without any place to sleep, and some of them are in sheltered facilities when that count is taken. Tell us about the most recent information we have about homelessness in San Diego. Does it continue to increase? DIAZ: We did have an increase last year. In -- we did the count in the last ten days of January is typically when it's done. It's done nationally. The U.S. department of housing and urban development kind of mandates this count of continuums of care across the country. And of in 2012, we took our snapshot, and we found that there were a little under 10,000 that were homeless in the San Diego region. And that particular night, we found that there were well over 5,000 that were unsheltered. Keep in mind, it is a snapshot. We believe there's a lot more. And we did see a significant increase last year. CAVANAUGH: And that's a time when shelters are open? DIAZ: That is correct. So we're talking about the -- most of the folks that are counted at that time are sheltered. It's the winter time, it's a very difficult time, and we find that our numbers are increasing. CAVANAUGH: Looking at your statistics, the increase since 2009 has been quite astounding. At that time there were over 7,000 homeless in San Diego. Now there are close to 10,000. DIAZ: We are getting better at counting. And the count volunteers with a group of volunteers. It's typically between 5:00 AM and 8:00 AM, so people have got to come out and do the count. We are preparing for the count for 2013, and I'd like to really put the word out there that we are recruiting for volunteers right now. The count will be Friday, January 25th of 2013. We would like people to go on our website, countSD.org to register. The more people that come out and help us count, the better we're going to know what the true problem is in San Diego. We already know it's pretty serious, but we need to know more. CAVANAUGH: Bob, where you deal with people who are homeless etch and every day, that's what you do, and it seems even from the data Delores is giving us, it's not just that we're counting better. There are more people who are homeless in San Diego, aren't there? MCILROY: Absolutely. Demographics change. And we have a lot of youngsters down there, teenager, early 20s, mostly white kids. They kind of stick out like a sore thumb. Some of these kids were left over from the occupy movement. They came in from, you know, surrounding area, maybe they were disenfranchised kids and they had a fun time down there reliving my days in the hippie '60s and then stuck around down there. We have a lot more senior citizens and disabled. Just about everybody down there, whether they're mentally disabled or physically or both, just a lot more old, sick people. And hopefully we're going to be able to do something about that. CAVANAUGH: Younger people are actually going to be a focus of this new count that's coming up next year, right? DIAZ: That is correct. HUD has asked us to do a campaign within the campaign of counting and to try to identify and count as many unaccompanied youth that are under the age of 24. They're tougher to count. In historic count, they've kind of blended in the general population. But we've partnered with the county office of education and service providers for homeless youth. We find that youth counting is a better method. And that's going to be a focus in 2013. CAVANAUGH: I was thinking when I heard that there were more younger people who are homeless in downtown San Diego, a number of things occurred to me. And Bob, I'm wondering, are younger people more likely to be targets for sexual exploitation? MCILROY: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. All the little girls that we see down there answer some predator attached to them, in most cases. Also the Graham bus station, a lot of these kids jump on buses, and we do the same thing here, there's other municipalities and providers that give people bus tickets to go somewhere else. And the pimps and the predators hang out at those bus stations and offer these youngsters, you know, safe place, quote unquote, to stay and a shelter. Then they end up in bad situations. CAVANAUGH: Let's say -- I know that you are hoping to get the temporary winter shelter open next week as early as you can. When it is open, how many will it serve? MCILROY: We'll put 225 in immediately. And through the 120 day, we'll serve about 800 to 900 men and women. It's the only cold weather shelter for women. It's the only cold weather shelter for women veterans. And the priority is women, disabled, and seniors. So the first couple of months, we'll have those folks. They get priority. Then we'll take the general population, mainly men after that. CAVANAUGH: You say you transition people through this shelter. How does that work, exactly? MCILROY: We have a great network with folks who do have rooms. We also have 200 rooms downtown. 193 units of supportive housing at the metro. We'll transition about 40 or 50 people there. But also our partnerships with other organizations. Even Jennifer lasar's group. DIAZ: The San Diego downtown partnership. MCILROY: There's quite a few groups out there. And also the house commission has some Section 8 vouchers for folks. The reality is that the inventory is just not there. So there will be hundreds of people returning back to the streets. CAVANAUGH: Delores, in going through the information that came out of this snapshot, the point of time count that you did about homeless in San Diego earlier this year. There were a number of things that really jumped out. The number of homeless who were on the streets, you put it about 18%. Do you think that it's -- that's a low estimate? DIAZ: It likely is. We came up with 18% based on once we do the enumeration we survey the homeless. We take a statistical percentage of the people we counted and survey them. The count is just simply that, air count. Then we go in and survey so that we find out more about the homeless. We want to know their demographics, what their issues are, and based on the 2012 count it was 18% were veterans. And some other interesting things, over 68% of them had been homeless a year or longer. CAVANAUGH: Is that chronic homelessness? Or is that another category? DIAZ: That would be chronic. In other words, if they have been in and out of homelessness several times, they are considered chronic by federal definition. And you know, what we're finding is an increased amount of, as Bob said, women, veterans, those numbers, increasing. Women veterans with children. A high percentage of the homeless have had a college experience. CAVANAUGH: That's another thing that jumped out at me. 32% of the people who are homeless in San Diego have a four-year college degree. DIAZ: Or have had a college experience, yes. CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to mention there is another homeless winter shelter that opens exclusively for veterans, right, Bob? MCILROY: Right. It's 150 beds. They open the first week of December. CAVANAUGH: Back to what you were saying, do you ask people what brought them to where they are? How they became homeless? DIAZ: Sometimes they'll tell us. It's purely volunteer, what they want to do. What a lot of people don't know is that the task force, when it's going to survey folk, it has to get its methodology approved by an institutional review board. It's considered a research project. And the subjects of the research are human beings. So there's a lot of careful oversight of what happens when we approach a homeless person and ask them questions. And if they don't want to answer, they don't have to. But this is the information we're able to glean. CAVANAUGH: Bob, I met a homeless person in the alleyway the other day, and it was after we'd had a downpour. And he was hanging his stuff on a fence. And he said good morning. And I said good morning. And he said, you know, wow! I did not expect that rain last night. Everything that he had, everything he had was soaking wet. This is the kind of thing that people who have homes don't think of. We think in terms of numbers and statistics when it comes to homeless. But you deal with people who are living that life each day. What are the other things that we don't recognize? MCILROY: One of the most needed things that we give to homeless folks is plastic. We have rolls of 20-mill plastic at the day center every day. Once something gets wet, it stays wet. They don't have driers or access to this type of thing. So we try to insulate people. CAVANAUGH: As I say, it doesn't occur to people who can go home and use their drier or some other facility in order to take care of that. MCILROY: Like the winter shelter, we're out there on TV, and we're campaigning and things, and we really ask people to come down F. They bring their donations down, their coats, come down and see where their donations go and talk to the people. It's really the interaction between and seeing them as human beings instead of just shadows many times. And see that they are cool people. I mean, I love hanging out with homeless folks. The crazier the better, because I fit right in. [ LAUGHTER ] MCILROY: But they're just human being, and they have the same wants and desires that all of us have. They're just in a bad situation. Not saying that they could all step out into the workforce. But they just need somebody to care. Of CAVANAUGH: So Delores, you want people to go to the website and check on whether or not they might be able to volunteer some of their time in January. DIAZ: I do. I want to encourage your listeners to go to countSD.org. It's really important. We're shooting for over 700 volunteers. That's what we're hoping for for January, 2013. You can be an Enumerator if you feel comfortable. And we do train our surveyors. Or a data entry person after we get the information. CAVANAUGH: And how can people help out the alpha project? MCILROY: Go to alphaproject.org and see our wish list there. But we encourage people to come down. Bring your kids. You can serve dinner down there, and when they go home, they're going to appreciate mom and dad a lot more, and it's something they'll never forget.

San Diego's Winter Homeless Shelter

San Diego's winter shelter was scheduled to open Monday, Nov. 19, but its opening has now been delayed, according to Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy.

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"We're praying that we'll be open by Thanksgiving," he told KPBS Midday. "But right now it looks like we're going to have to have a miracle to do that."

He said working with a new contractor, not Veterans Village San Diego as in years past, delayed the opening.

"Hopefully, God willing, it doesn't rain," he said.

The shelter, run by the non-profit Alpha Project, provides 220 beds for men and women under a large tent in Barrio Logan at 16th Street and Newton Avenue.

McElroy said the shelter is filled up for the first night with a waiting list of hundreds.

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“We take disable and seniors and women first and the most in need among the population, and then as we transition those people out, we put new people in," said McElroy.

McElroy is expecting 800 people to transition through the four-month shelter -- a fraction of the county's 10,000 homeless.

"For example, we’ll have 80 year old ladies that are getting $600 a month on full Social Security, so we try to keep them in there the whole 120 days so they can save up their money to get into a supportive housing program," said McElroy.

Other people are transitioned from the shelter into traditional housing or treatment programs.

"So the idea is to find out what their specific needs are and then get them into programs to address those needs," McElroy said.

Rising Homeless Population

Snapshot of San Diego County's homeless population over the past four years shows a 24 percent increase.

2009: 7,892

2010: 8,574

2011: 9,020

2012: 9,641

San Diego County's homeless population has increased nearly 13 percent over the past two years, according to the "point-in-time" homeless count by the Regional Taskforce on the Homeless.

Taskforce Executive Director Dolores Diaz said a recent survey on the unsheltered homeless population revealed disturbing statistics.

“Thirty-two percent of them are college graduates with a four year degree, and 21 percent of veterans surveyed had PTSD," said Diaz. "A very, very high percentage, I want to say 69 percent of them, had been homeless a year or more.”

San Diego County Homelessness
A point-in-time count of San Diego's homeless population by the San Diego Regional Taskforce On The Homeless.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

Diaz is gearing up for the annual homeless count set for January 25, 2013, and recruiting 700 volunteers to assist. She said the upcoming count will include special efforts to count homeless youth.

"We really need to know more," said Diaz. "Where they are, approximately how many we’re talking about, why are they homeless? What are the services that they need? Are they in school?"

Diaz said homeless youth tend to hide more.

"So we’re trying to engage some of the youth that are receiving services now to help us count those that are unsheltered."

Diaz said the annual count and surveys help craft more programs to eliminate the problem.

A handful of other shelters will open around the county this month, but still, more than 5,000 homeless people will sleep on streets on any given night this winter.

Corrected: April 12, 2024 at 4:24 PM PDT
Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane, Claire Trageser and Peggy Pico contributed to this report.
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