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Border & Immigration

As government resources run low, a Logan Heights church opens to migrants

Cars roar past on Interstate 5 as it cuts through Logan Heights. The night is cold and rainy, but steam rises off a pot of homemade chicken soup in a makeshift shelter.

“Bienvenido,” says the now-slick banner on the pavilion roof.

About 35 migrants gather at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for dinner, a place to sleep and breakfast the next day.

José Gregorio Castillo Quiñonez eats dinner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Logan Heights on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.
Carlos Castillo
José Gregorio Castillo Quiñonez eats dinner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Logan Heights on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.

José Gregorio Castillo Quiñonez is among them. He’s been there almost since the shelter opened last month.

Like many of the others, he fled the political and economic collapse in Venezuela. He said his life was threatened. There was no work. He has an upcoming court date in Chicago, he said, but plans to return to San Diego afterward.

He and others at the shelter said San Diego has been welcoming to them, and offers more resources than other places they’d been, like Texas and Imperial County.

Church leadership opened the men-only shelter after a growing number of migrants — two grew to five, then to 20 — began sleeping around the shrine of the Virgin Mary in their courtyard two months ago. It felt safer than San Diego’s streets, the migrants said.


Most shelters are full.

This shelter is at capacity, too. It takes about 60 volunteer church members to run it, including Isela Castro. She said many of the volunteers are second- and third-generation immigrants themselves.

“They’re just here trying to make a better life,” she said. “That’s what my grandparents did when they came here, and I think we all see ourselves in them.”

It’s an ambitious effort to provide two meals every day, and the space — the church’s community room — isn’t meant to be a shelter.

Regularly scheduled church activities were displaced to make room. The migrants sleep on the floor next to trash bags filled with their few belongings. Some shower with the hose in the yard.

But Father Brad Mills, one of the church’s associate pastors, said it was an easy decision. Jesus was very clear: Welcome the stranger. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.

More than 230,000 migrants arrived in San Diego this year, 30% more than last year. According to the county, 98% typically move on to other destinations.

The county’s migrant welcome center, which serves more than 500 people daily, is expected to run out of funds next month.