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San Diego’s ‘Bridge Shelters’ To Remain Open Through June 2020

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.

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San Diego City Council members Tuesday approved a 12-month extension to the city's three "bridge shelters," which Mayor Kevin Faulconer has made a key component of his strategy to address homelessness.

Aired: June 12, 2019 | Transcript

San Diego City Council members Tuesday approved a 12-month extension to the city's three "bridge shelters," which Mayor Kevin Faulconer has made a key component of his strategy to address homelessness.

The agreements will provide funding to the Alpha Project for the Homeless, Veterans Village of San Diego and Father Joe's Villages to continue operating the shelters through June 30, 2020. The shelters are expected to cost roughly $11.5 million over the next year.

The three shelters offer various services such as housing assistance as well as a place for homeless residents to sleep in safety. The shelters have the capacity to serve nearly 700 residents every day. Nearly 4,000 people have stayed in the shelters since their opening, according to a staff presentation, and more than 300 formerly homeless residents have moved into long-term housing via the bridge shelters.

"(Housing) is part of the solution but it takes time to produce," said Father Joe's Chief Revenue Officer Bill Bolstad. "And in the meantime, we have thousands of people on our streets on any given night. What they need is a place to go, a place that's safe, a place that's clean, a place for them to access the resources they need to help them get off the streets."

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The San Diego Housing Commission, which oversees the shelter operations on behalf of the city, is funding them with reserves and one-time dollars from the federal government. The council's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst had raised concerns over the city's failure to identify an ongoing funding source for the shelters, calling the funding strategy "unsustainable."

Council members noted the concerns but said the identification of permanent funding would have to take place another day.

"We need to think about a long-term funding stream to be able to support this," Councilman Chris Ward said. "We need to probably ... make that a priority as a council this coming year about what the plan is for both temporary and long-term solutions."

The city opened the shelters in 2017 in response to a hepatitis A outbreak that killed 20 residents, many of them homeless. Officials said 63% of all the residents who have entered the shelters since they first opened have a physical disability, and 47% have entered with no income.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno also proposed to keep one of the bridge shelters at its current site at Golden Hall, located adjacent to the City Administration Building, rather than move it to a vacant lot at the corner of 17th Street and Imperial Avenue. She noted the lot sits between the Interstate-5 freeway and an off-ramp and said the surrounding area is rife with illicit activities unfit for the women and families the shelter is meant to house.

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"I believe the Golden Hall location is a much better location than 17th and Imperial," Moreno said. "Like all of my colleagues, we pass by the facility on our way in and out of city hall. The city concourse provides a place for children to play outside safely, as any kid in the city of San Diego deserves, without being threatened by vehicle traffic or nefarious activities."

The Golden Hall shelter's operator, Father Joe's Villages, said the 17th and Imperial location was preferable because it would be more cost effective and is closer to their main campus. However, two residents of the shelter told the council they wanted to stay in Golden Hall because they preferred the location and because it is a brick-and-mortar building as opposed to an industrial tent.

Council members Chris Ward, Mark Kersey and Chris Cate voted against the extensions because they preferred moving the shelter out of Golden Hall.

With the Golden Hall shelter staying in place, the city is now tasked with deciding how to use the 17th and Imperial site, which the city has already leased and started construction on. City officials intend to establish it as a homeless shelter of some kind but when that may happen remains unclear after Tuesday's vote.

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