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Homeless Children In San Diego To Transition From Campground To Large Tent Structure

Construction workers piece together a large tent structure on 16th Street and...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Construction workers piece together a large tent structure on 16th Street and Newton Avenue that will house 350 homeless men and women, Nov. 15, 2017.

One of the city of San Diego’s three large tent structures for homeless people is scheduled to open on Friday. Two others are expected to open in late December and early January.

One tent, located in a lot at Father Joe's Villages in the East Village, will be dedicated to children and families, including the nearly 50 children currently living at the city’s homeless campground in Golden Hill.

“It was a surprise at the campground,” said Ruth Bruland, chief program officer with Father Joe’s Villages. “I don’t think any of us thought that many families would show up. Now we know we need to be ready.”

The tent structure will provide beds, and cribs, for 150 people.

“We’ll receive all the families that are in the campground, and then, we think there’s still more out there,” Bruland said.

Father Joe’s is the ideal location for the family tent because it’s already equipped for children, Bruland said.

“We sometimes in our village and our regular buildings have up to 160 kids at a time, so we’re used to all that kid activity,” Bruland said.

The campus features a therapeutic children’s center and childcare, with classrooms and play areas to foster children’s social and academic skills. Licensed clinical psychologists provide behavioral and developmental health assessments and services.

“So that’s where we’ll really want them to go because that’s where we can help them,” Bruland said. “This is a great place to be safe, to play and to learn.”

Bruland said Father Joe’s Villages is expecting more babies, children and their parents because of what they're seeing at their family shelter.

“We know that our waiting list for the family living center is months and months long, so there are families out there and we’ll be ready to serve them,” she said.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Christine Wade, 31, and her six children sit in their tent at the city of San Diego's transitional homeless camp near downtown, Oct. 12, 2017.

But accommodating an additional 150 people on campus will be a challenge, she said. The child care programs have limited capacity, and so do the dining halls that provide three daily meals.

“We know we’re going to have to extend the hours to serve everybody,” Bruland said.

Bruland said they’ll work hard to provide the best care possible.

“A tent isn’t an ideal situation,” Bruland said. “So as quickly as we can, we’ll move people from the tent into our regular structure.”

A couple of blocks away on 16th Street and Newton Avenue is where a second tent, managed by the Alpha Project, will provide 350 beds for men and women beginning on Dec. 1.

“We have women in the front, and then we have barriers between the two sections and men in the back,” said Amy Gonyeau, chief operating officer with the Alpha Project, pointing to the big white dome under construction.

The nonprofit operated the city’s winter tent program for two decades and is currently managing the city’s homeless campground, which opened in September for 200 people.

Gonyeau said a step-down plan to close the campground is underway.

“So that we can take the singles that are over there and they can come over here so there’s not a lapse in service,” Gonyeau said.

In addition to singles at the campground, priority to the large tent structure will be given to people with housing vouchers in hand. Housing navigators will be on site to help people cycle through the tent more quickly and secure a permanent place to live.

“It’s going to become a lot more efficient and easier and less frustrating for both the client that’s living on the street, which are transient so sometimes you can’t find them,” Gonyeau said. “So this will provide that spot for people to come and see their people and work with them and get them out of the tent and into a permanent housing situation quickly.”

Also on site will be an abundance of services, such as health care and counseling to help people gain stability — including those with drug and alcohol addictions.

“We don’t want any barriers to entry here. We just want to help them,” Gonyeau said. “So once they get in and they have some issues, we engage and engage and engage and try to get them either a treatment facility or whatever needs they have.”

The site also includes bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and 24-hour security. Two meals will be provided each day. People will be allowed to bring their service animals and two bags filled with belongings.

Gonyeau said people can come and go as they please, but a strict 8 p.m. curfew and bed check will be enforced. Those who don’t check in on time will lose their bed that night.

“We’re not going to leave a bed open," Gonyeau said. “We’ll go out at night and go and get somebody that wants to come in.”

Gonyeau said 350 people are a lot to fit under one roof, but she’s not worried about problems.

“We’ve been doing this so many years, and to be honest with you, we really don’t have that many issues. People are just really happy and grateful to be here,” she said.

A homeless count taken in January found more than 5,600 people sleeping on the streets, with many living along the edges of downtown in hand-built encampments and tents lined along city blocks. Those are now cleared away following a major city crackdown. The unsanitary conditions were blamed for a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed 20 people and sickened more than 500 others.

Candace Gardiner-Smith and her husband, a Marine, Terry Marcel-Smith are hoping to get into one of the large tent structures before cold nighttime temperatures set in.

“I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression,” Gardiner-Smith said.

The married couple has been homeless and living on the streets around downtown for several years.

“Me and my wife need a roof over our heads so we can succeed in life,” Marcel-Smith said. “By me and her being out here on the streets isn’t doing us any good.”

Elizabeth Saylor, homeless in downtown San Diego for several years, hopes she’ll get into a tent too. She said she’s desperate for a place to sleep.

“A bed, a safe environment that’s drug-free,” she said. “That would be important too, especially if I was trying to be clean.”

A third tent, dedicated to 200 veterans and operated by Veterans Village of San Diego, will be located on Sports Arena Boulevard. It is also scheduled to open in late December or early January.

Homeless Children In San Diego To Transition From Campground To Large Tent Structure


Kim Mitchell, president and CEO, Veterans Village of San Diego


Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated the Father Joe's Villages tent was set to open Dec. 18 and the Veterans Village tent on Dec. 1. Both openings have been pushed back and the story has been updated to reflect the changes.


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