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San Diego Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June

Bunk beds line a

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Bunk beds line a "Bridge Shelter" near downtown San Diego, which is providing a home for 324 people, Feb. 23, 2018.

San Diego Homeless Tent Shelters To Stay Open Through June

GUEST:

Andrew Bowen, reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

San Diego City Council members Tuesday voted to continue funding the city's three homeless tent shelters for another nine months, at a cost of $8.5 million.

Some on the council expressed concern about the fact that the funding was coming from the San Diego Housing Commission's low- and moderate-income housing fund, which typically is reserved for affordable housing projects. Some also voiced disappointment that the tents have fallen far short of the goals set out for them late last year: that 65 percent of residents leaving the shelters be exiting to permanent housing.

But ultimately most on the council balked at the possibility of having to close the shelters and potentially force their roughly 700 residents back onto the streets.

"Tonight, nearly 700 people will be sleeping under a roof at the shelters rather than under a tarp on the street," said Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has made the tents a central component of his strategy to address homelessness.

Councilman David Alvarez cast the only "no" vote on the funding extension, saying that the city had more than a thousand affordable housing projects in the pipeline that simply need money to get built.

"If we keep using the funds that were meant to build this housing, we're actually never going to be able to fund these projects," he said.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez said she would not support any additional extensions of funding for the tent program without seeing a more comprehensive strategy for homelessness. Councilwoman Barbara Bry said last May the city's funding of the tents was "not a sustainable model," but she did not make any comments Tuesday. A spokeswoman said Bry was not in contact with her staff because she was observing Yom Kippur.

RELATED: Housing Commission Budget Reflects Shift Away From Housing

The council also agreed to lower the goals for the tents in several ways. The new standards broaden the definition of a "successful exit" to include longer term — but not permanent — housing, such as transitional housing, long-term nursing care and foster care. They also expect only 30 percent of residents to make a successful exit, and they exclude from those counts any resident who stays in the tents for fewer than 30 days.

Lisa Jones, a staff member at the Housing Commission, said under those metrics the tents were currently performing with 28 percent success — just shy of their new 30 percent goal.

Michael McConnell, an advocate for the homeless who has sharply criticized the tent program, said the council was "watering down the outcomes" expected of the program.

"When we just take people from a short-term shelter to a longer-term shelter, (then) back to the street, did that actually help anybody other than shelter them for a short period of time?" he said.

The extension of the tent program's funding through June means the debate over how, or whether, to keep the tents open will likely kick back into gear in the spring during the city's budget season. That is when homeless services compete against other city services such as libraries, police and road repair for the city's limited dollars.

San Diego City Council members have agreed to keep funding three homeless tent shelters for another nine months. But some are growing concerned that the funding of the tents is not sustainable.

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