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County, City Working To Open New ‘Safe Haven’ Homeless Shelters

Inside of the bridge shelter run by Alpha Project near downtown in this undat...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Inside of the bridge shelter run by Alpha Project near downtown in this undated photo.

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Plans are underway to open harm-reduction model shelters in San Diego, something that officials said has not been done here yet.

Aired: August 30, 2021 |

San Diego officials are taking more steps to address the chronically homeless. Plans are underway to open harm-reduction model shelters in San Diego, something that officials said has not been done here yet.

"I think every San Diegan would acknowledge that the problem is not visibly getting better and as a consequence we have to try different approaches and this is what we’re doing," said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

Gloria and San Diego County officials are working to open new kinds of homeless shelters, ones that aim to help those with severe substance addictions.

"This is not a time to tell people who are willing to raise their hands and accept services that they can’t come in and if that means bringing someone in who is heavily intoxicated or in other kinds of active conditions that have typically or historically been barriers to admitting them into the service — what the city and the county are saying is, 'No we want to work with you,'" Gloria said.

RELATED: Push To Get Homeless Residents Shelter Focuses On Downtown This Month

The new harm-reduction shelters follow a month long homeless outreach push in the downtown area. San Diego already has several “bridge shelters” where 100 or more people are staying in group settings, but these new shelters — called “safe havens” — are designed to be smaller, housing 25 to 50 people in individual rooms.

"To really bring online a new capacity that doesn’t currently exist," said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

Fletcher is partnering with Gloria to make this a reality. He said right now many shelters will not let those in who are not sober or committed to being sober, but he said that drug use will not be allowed inside these new shelters.

"People aren’t going to break the law in a government funded location but it’s about having an open door policy: come as you are in whatever state of mind you’re in," Fletcher said. "We welcome you in and we’re going to infuse that location with services."

Fletcher said people may be staying there for a significant period of time.

"I don’t know that someone who’s been on the streets for a decade — that has chronic severe alcoholism — it’s going to take some time and that’s why we did an initial five year investment in this project... We’ve got to make a sustained investment."

The county has committed to supplying specialized outreach teams and it will split shelter operating costs with the city.

"We want multiple locations and look it’s very challenging," Fletcher said. "Everyone wants to you to solve homelessness as long as you don’t do it anywhere near them and so this is difficult to identify locations, to find locations to get them going."

City officials have been tasked with finding locations for the new shelters, nothing has been announced yet, but Gloria said community buy-in is key for their success.

"I believe that we can do this in a way that uplifts the neighborhood and doesn’t harm it," he said.

Gloria said these harm-reduction model shelters have been the missing ingredient for success here.

"We know that when we do that it is far more likely that we can break that cycle of addiction address the underlying mental health concerns and ultimately get this person stably housed and off the streets for good," Gloria said. "That’s a part of the notion behind when I say I want to end chronic homeleness — this is how you do it."

Reported by Matt Hoffman

The city is using American Rescue Plan funding for the safe haven shelters, then Gloria wants to approach the city council to fund them long-term.

"It’s a gap in our system and a part of why we aren’t seeing the change we want to see in every one of our neighborhoods — a part of why we’re spending more than we ever have, but we’re not getting the results that we want. We want different results — we’re choosing to employ different tools and I think we’ll be proven successful."

Gloria said the pilot shelter program is designed to get people who are chronically homeless off the streets, a goal that is shared by Fletcher.

"We know that if we bring you in we make that initial help to say, 'Hey we care about you we want to get you some help,'" Fletcher said. "That will lead to the outcomes that we think are best but it’s a very different approach and path."

The city and county want to open the shelters as quickly as possible, but right now the timeline is fluid. Gloria said it is important to get them right the first time.

"It could be a city owned facility staffed by county workers and that could be it," Gloria said about how the new shelters will be run. "It could be a private facility with city and county teams with nonprofit partners as well so we’re open on that suggestion because at this point in time we need to get this up and running. We need folks to start getting served in these safe havens."

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

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Plans are underway to open shelters in San Diego that provide safe haven for people with addiction issues. These harm reduction model shelters are new for the city. Meanwhile, a ... Read more →

Aired: August 26, 2021 | Transcript

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Matt Hoffman
Health Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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