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New 'Harm Reduction' Homeless Shelter Could Be Open By Early November

A view from outside the shelter located off of Sports Arena Boulevard, Sept. 13, 2021.
Roland Lizarondo
A view from outside the shelter located off of Sports Arena Boulevard, Sept. 13, 2021.

City and county officials are close to opening a new homeless shelter in San Diego’s Midway District to help the chronically unhoused and those with substance abuse issues. It is a change from how other city-funded shelters are operated.

"We need to stand up programming that better meets people where their needs are," said San Diego Housing Commission Executive Vice President Lisa Jones.

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New ‘Harm Reduction’ Homeless Shelter Could Be Open By Early November
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The shelter will have 50 beds and be located off of Sports Arena Boulevard at a former Pier 1 Imports store. Jones said it targets a specific population, with high needs.

"Wanting to create a different environment for folks and an environment that’s trauma informed and feels more welcoming and less stressful for folks who may not do well in a larger shelter," Jones said.

This shelter is not like larger bridge shelters in the downtown area.

"They do not have high level behavioral health, clinical social workers, substance use disorder in our existing shelter system," Jones said. "So they’re not really resourced for that severely mentally ill, significant substance use and co-occurring conditions — that’s hopefully where this harm reduction strategy will be more effective."

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A "harm reduction" strategy means people can come here under the influence, they cannot use drugs inside and county teams will work to try and get them off drugs or alcohol then eventually into more permanent housing.

The San Diego Housing Commission unanimously approved the new shelter last week. For the first nine months it will cost $1.7 million to operate, with homeless service provider Alpha Project running day-to-day operations. The price per bed here is higher than existing shelters, but officials said that is to make sure there are enough services and onsite security.

"Frankly we’ve over invested just to make sure we don't under-staff this program," Jones said. "We can always scale back, but we want to make sure it’s successful."

VIDEO: New 'Harm Reduction' Homeless Shelter Could Be Open By Late October, Early November

This shelter is the first piece in the harm reduction model for the region. The idea is to then open up some smaller “safe haven” shelters where people can stay longer and have individual rooms. The San Diego Housing Authority, made up of city council members, has until later this week to pull the item for additional review. If that does not happen, officials are aiming to open the shelter late next month or in early November.