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City of San Diego opens homeless shelter for women in old Central Library

San Diego's former central library sits vacant as city leaders decide how to redevelop the facility, Feb. 16, 2015.
Matthew Bowler
San Diego's former central library sits vacant as city leaders decide how to redevelop the facility, Feb. 16, 2015.

Mayor Todd Gloria announced Thursday the opening of a homeless shelter for women at the old Central Library in Downtown San Diego.

This 36-bed shelter will operate at night. It is run by the National Alliance for Mental Illness of San Diego and Imperial Counties under contract with the city's Homeless Strategies and Solutions Department.

"The first night this shelter was open, each of the new residents was asleep by 6 p.m., exhausted from life outdoors and feeling safe and secure in a warm and comfortable bed," Gloria said at the grand opening on Thursday morning. "We owe it to them and many others like them to explore every opportunity to locate new shelters and new housing — and that's precisely what we've done here.


"The challenging effort to finally open this shelter at the Old Central Library is indicative of that no-stone-unturned mentality to address homelessness in our city," he said.

NAMI will also provide case management, access to social services and housing navigation services to unhoused residents at the shelter.

"The opening of this shelter is another concrete step addressing street homelessness in Downtown," said City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, who represents District 3, where the facility is located. "This shelter will help women exit encampments and enter a safer place. I'm happy to see an old building create new beginnings that will help these women get back on their feet."

In his 2022 State of the City address, Gloria expressed his desire to transform the Old Central Library into a shelter. But first, the city had to clear a deed restriction that limited how the property may be used. Through work from the City Attorney's office, a judge determined in December 2022 that the deed restriction does not preclude the city from using the building as a shelter.

San Diego has created nearly 700 beds for people experiencing homelessness in the past year, yet it has also set records for the most homeless on the streets of Downtown San Diego — 1,839 in December — and number of homeless deaths — more than 574 in 2022.


In his 2023 State of the City address, Gloria said street outreach and shelters serve as important and effective connections to housing.

"I am so proud to report that in 2022, more than 2,200 people ended their homelessness through the city's outreach and shelter system," he said.

The vast majority of those people — nearly 1,900 — had moved into permanent housing, according to city data.

"The problem we face is that, for every 10 people we get off the street and into housing, 13 people become homeless — many for the first time," Gloria said. "The reality is, there are San Diegans who simply are not able to keep up with the rising cost of living.

"It's clear that we must focus more attention on the upstream causes of homelessness to give people a better shot at remaining housed through tough times," he said.

For the old Library site, multiple break-ins and vandalism had complicated efforts to open the shelter. Additional steps have been taken to secure the building, according to a city statement.

The project is funded in part by a $322,000 Capital Emergency Solutions Grant from the county. The shelter will be in operation for six months, after which the city will "explore the possibility of creating affordable housing on the city-owned property," a city statement read.

The library is located in a section of East Village that will soon benefit from a $2.45 million Encampment Resolution Grant awarded by the state last October intended to help the city resolve encampments and transition individuals into safe and stable housing.

San Diego now has a total of 1,793 beds in its shelter network.