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Convention Center Prepares To Welcome Migrant Children As ‘Operation Shelter To Home’ Ends

Students do school work on the ground at a school started by asylum seekers f...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Students do school work on the ground at a school started by asylum seekers for the children of asylum seekers holds class at the migrant camp in the El Capparal plaza on Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, March 12, 2021.

In the midst of a pandemic, there were no conventions coming to San Diego’s Convention Center.

But it’s been a busy place since early on in the pandemic.

On April 1, 2020, the center shifted to a place to host those without shelter — a safe, warm space with the room for appropriate physical distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With the support of the City Council, Mayor Todd Gloria extended operations through the end of this month.

"Since that time, we have been able to house over 4,000 San Diegans at this site and to connect over 1,300 of those individuals with permanent or longer-term housing options," Gloria said at a Tuesday morning news conference outside the Convention Center.

Since the December extension, people housed at the Convention Center have been vaccinated. Gloria said the most recent testing shows no one living at the center is infected. Now, the 500 or so still there are moving out.

“I made a commitment that we would not return these folks to Harbor Drive and wish them well," Gloria said.

RELATED: San Diego Convention Center To Hold Asylum-Seeking Unaccompanied Minors

Reported by John Carroll

That commitment means the people at the Convention Center will be sheltered and receive services at other shelters in the city, including two Alpha Project shelters, Fr. Joe's Mirabile Center, Golden Hall and the PATH Connections Interim Shelter.

“My phone first rang Saturday around 11 a.m.," said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

It was new Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on the line asking what San Diego could do to help alleviate the problem of housing children seeking asylum in federal detention centers. The answer was the Convention Center.

County Supervisor Nora Vargas said the matter of giving the migrant children a safe place was personal to her.

“We want to make sure that our kids are not only safe, and they get the care that they need, but more importantly that they’re unified, re-unified with their families.”

The first children are slated to arrive this weekend. Their average stay is estimated at between 30 and 35-days. The cost of caring for them will be borne primarily by the federal government.

They’ll all have to be placed with their families, sponsors, or moved elsewhere by July when the San Diego Convention Center is planning on once again hosting conventions.

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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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