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More Than 70 Homeless Children Moving Into San Diego’s Third Bridge Shelter

Deacon Jim Vargas, president of Father Joe's Villages, walks through rows of ...

Photo by Christopher Maue

Above: Deacon Jim Vargas, president of Father Joe's Villages, walks through rows of bunk beds inside a large dome tent in San Diego’s East Village, Jan. 4, 2017.

Dozens of homeless families started settling into a large industrial tent located behind Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego’s East Village on Thursday. It was the third tent the city has opened over the past several weeks.

Inside the big gray dome on Thursday morning, beds were made, linens folded and bathrooms, showers and laundry services were set up to welcome the 150 new residents, including more than 70 children.

"It’s going to be a place where families can be. Where kids can play with other children; do their homework," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "While parents do the very important work of finding a permanent home."

The shelter is operated by Father Joe’s Villages, San Diego’s largest homeless service provider. Residents will be given three meals a day and an array of comprehensive services, specifically geared toward families and their children.

"These supportive services include therapeutic child care, integrated health care, psychiatry, addiction treatment, employment training, chaplaincy and the wellness program," said Deacon Jim Vargas, president of Father Joe's Villages.

Reported by Christopher Maue

There are also several child-centered services specific to the shelter, including access to daycare, behavioral interventions, speech and language therapy, a teen club and literacy services.

Altogether the three "bridge shelters" provide beds for 700 people. City officials were pressured to act by an outbreak of hepatitis A that killed 20 people and sickened hundreds — about two-thirds of whom were either homeless, users of illegal drugs or both. The rate of new infections has slowed in recent weeks.

Priority to the tents is given to those already signed up in a county-wide database called a Coordinated Entry System, which streamlines the process for transitioning people into permanent housing.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, whose district spans the downtown region, said the data system is helping to address homelessness. He said he’s starting to see improvements, but there’s still work to do.

"We need to do more in street outreach. We need to work with the Regional Task Force and make sure that our data is being optimized so we know real-time where resources are available," Ward said.

Ward said the temporary shelter will provide a huge relief for families who have been sleeping on the streets.

"Getting triaged, getting assessed, getting a decent night’s sleep, and getting on to better places through Housing First models," Ward said. "It’s a slow work in progress but I think we’ve built up the systems right now to actually meaningfully address our homelessness situation."

Each resident will be assigned a case manager and housing navigator who will develop a plan to get them permanently housed.

The first tent shelter, for single adults, opened Dec. 1 at 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan and is run by the nonprofit Alpha Project.

The other is located in the Midway District and is designed to serve veterans. It is run by Veterans Village of San Diego.

The East Village shelter will be open through November. Father Joe's Villages in early 2019 plans to build permanent supportive housing on the site.

As city leaders celebrated the opening the tent, Monique Perkins, 45, was around the corner standing against a wall beside her suitcase. She said she’s on a waiting list to get into the tent, but was told she’ll have to wait a few days while families move in first.

"It's terrifying that this might be my first night that I would have to sleep on the streets with nowhere to go," Perkins said. "It’s terrifying."

Perkins is one of more than 1,000 homeless people sleeping on the streets of downtown, according to a December count taken by the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

The "bridge shelter" opened in the East Village Thursday morning, the last of three large tent shelters for San Diego's homeless.

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