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A Temporary Fix To San Diego's Winter Homeless Shelter

Todd Gloria and Peter Callstrom, Homeless Shelter
A temporary fix to San Diego's winter shelter for the homeless.
GUESTS:Todd Gloria, San Diego City Councilmember, District 3Peter Callstrom, Executive Director, San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless

CAVANAUGH: Last year was supposed to be the end of temporary winter shelters in the city of San Diego. A permanent housing facility had been approved, and construction got underway this past January. Now, we hear that construction may not be completed in time, and once again, the City Council may have to approve a temporary homeless shelter for this winter. My guests, San Diego City Council member, Todd Gloria. Welcome to the show. GLORIA: Thanks Maureen. CAVANAUGH: And Peter Callstrom is here, regional task force on the homeless. CALLSTROM: Thank you Maureen. CAVANAUGH: Now, why do you think we might need another emergency winter homeless shelter? GLORIA: Well, Lorie Zapf chairs it, but I 7 on the committee. And I think this iss in for a couple of reasons. Not that they're behind schedule, but the current opening date is December†1st. And we know that we open our winter shelter the week of Thanksgiving. So we're going to have a few days missed there. Every day is critical for anyone who's living on the street. The other thing is that the council and everyone who's come together to create the connections housing project at the former world trade center want it to be successful. As they ramp up to open their doors on December†1st, that it would be beneficial to have a winter shelter again in order to provide the buffer so the services are there and that most importantly the residents of downtown can see that progress is being made. CAVANAUGH: Okay. So has construction been delayed in any way? GLORIA: What happened was there were some difficulties actually transferring the property. The city owned it, we've sold it, and so the construction timeframe was always one year. Connections housing, our partners there, family health centers, and alpha project, got access on December†1st of last year. So according to their schedule, they'll open on December†1st. There may be ability to open it sooner, but we don't want to take any chances. And there are a lot of administrative hurdles that need to be overcome. CAVANAUGH: So your committee, a contingency plan for an emergency shelter for the homeless, where would that be? GLORIA: Right now, the location is not set in stone. But we have had a lot of success at the 16th and Newton site, where it was last year, where it's been for many years, and where we've been able to operate it successfully. Of course we still have our veteransancy tent on sports arena boulevard. CAVANAUGH: Peter, can you remind us about the permanent shelter being constructed on the old world trade center site downtown. It's called connections housing. What will this facility consistent of? CALLSTROM: Well, Mr. Gloria can speak best to that, but it's going to be able to house 225 individuals. It's a 1-stop shop. It's going to have healthcare and job training and identification, everything that's needed so people don't have to travel to multiple locations to get things together so that they can lead on their path out of homelessness. So having it in one place is the model. And we're on our way, and it's a fantastic project that once it opens is really going to make a dramatic impact downtown. CAVANAUGH: Todd Gloria, one of the things that I understand about this is the reason that it's called permanent, it's not because people are supposed to be permanently there, but of course it will be opened all year, and it will provide services in a way that the temporary homeless shelter really is not made up to do; is that right? GLORIA: That's exactly right. I think in San Diego we care about our homeless year-round. Not just 16 weeks in the winter time. We can do better than that. And once connections opens, you'll have 52 weeks a year of services. I'd ask any of your listeners to think about if you were homeless today, where would you go for a meal? Where would you go for healthcare? Where would you go for Social Security or VA benefits? They're all over the county, and when you don't have transportation, and by the way, maybe you have a mental illness or an abuse problem, we're setting people up for failure with our current situation. When connections open, and you have all of those services under one roof and one location, you're going to see many more people successfully leave the ranks of the homeless and be permanently housed, and that comes at no small benefit to the taxpayer who are footing the bill for healthcare and other services that the homeless access. CAVANAUGH: This permanent facility is going to have 135 beds for interim housing, 16 for those with special needs, 73†units for permanent housing. The temporary shelter provides about 220 beds. Peter, we have thousands of people homeless in San Diego, right? CALLSTROM: We do. One of the projects that we annually is called the point in time count where we're able to assess how many people are living on the street and in shelters. And our count this January came out to about 9,600 people both on the street and in shelters, and about 55% of those folks living literally on the street. In downtown, it's a thousand people who are living on the street, in that neighborhood. We need to make these progressive steps to make the impact that's going to get really everybody off the street eventually. There's the ending homelessness in downtown San Diego project that's been going on for two year, that's housed 150 or more, Mr. Gloria, and on its way to even more. So there are other projects in place that are really making it a direct impact of getting people off the street. Much more to be done, but this model is what's needed not just in downtown but as Mr. Gloria said all along, this is the beginning of locations like this 1-stop shop so people can get off the street. CAVANAUGH: Since the new boundary lines have been drawn for the City Council districts, your district is going to cover downtown San Diego. Does this increase your concern about the city's homeless problem? GLORIA: I've always been concerned about the homelessness issue. And I think that's shown in my leadership in trying to get connections open, and funding the day center, and bringing new solutions like the check-in center downtown. We've been trying to lead on this issue for some time. Through the miracles of redistricting, I'll have a more direct responsibility, but I welcome that opportunity. I think we can do better than we're doing currently when it comes to homelessness in our city. And I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work hard on the issue. CAVANAUGH: Some people who have represented downtown have found their constituents complaining that there are too many homeless facilities located in downtown San Diego, that they should be spread out around the City of San Diego. How do you feel about that? GLORIA: Well, they're right to point out that there are homelessness issues elsewhere in this community. And we have had downtown leading on this issue, and the hope is that we can take these models and replicate themselves elsewhere. Connections is the first of these the ifs. I'd like to see one facilities. I'd like to see one the fact remains that you -- have a thousand unsheltered people in downtown San Diego. But all these initiatives, I believe the point in time count counted about 300 less sheltered people in downtown San Diego. The focus and the attention that we're bringing to bear to 92101 is bearing results. And when we've shown we can take care of this problem, the other communities who are affected by homelessness will welcome these centers in their communities as well. CAVANAUGH: You described the contingency plan for an emergency winter homeless shelter as sort of a transition to see whether or not this new permanent facility is up to running and can really house people and so on. David Alvarez asked the land use committee to look into continuing winter shelters even after the permanent shelter is finished. GLORIA: That is a possibility. The construction is what it is. I think it goes back to your point. Even with connection, we'll continue to have a problem, and we'll need to address it. Funding is is always a concern. And as you see the really terrible decisions being made in Sacramento and Washington DC, when it comes to our social safety net, it may be necessary. The programs that are helping keep people from homelessness are being obliterated by some of these budget cuts, and it may fall to the cities to pick up the pieces and help folks out. CAVANAUGH: I want to talk to you about the point in time this year, the count that you do yearly. Give us an overview of -- what have you fund able to find out? CALLSTROM: For the City of San Diego, it added up to approximately 6,300 people in the City of San Diego proper. And again, close to ten thousand when we had it in the rest of the county. But it doesn't stop there. The San Diego County office of education also assesses homelessness in the schools. These youth are not even counted. But there's another almost 16,000 people that they assess, K-12, who fit the definition of homelessness. The point in time count is the barometer for what's going on in the street and shelters. These kids can be doubled up. They may not be literalo on the street, but in cars or doubled up and in precarious situations. So we have seriously a crisis in our county. But thankfully again we have leaders like Mr. Gloria who's really been on this issue for a long time, really addressing all of the issues that it takes in order to solve homelessness, which is affordable housing, economic opportunity, but also the healthcare is so huge. Again, back to the connections housing, having the healthcare right there is so critical because we find out through the point in time count what the health risk issues are of the people living on the street because we're asking them very detailed, exhaustive surveys to find out what they're going through, and so many have serious health conditions, and unless they're treated as part of the holistic package that goes with the 1-stop shop, it's not going to solve their issues. Once we can get them healthcare, which the 1-stop shop will do, it's the path towards really ending this, and solving it for people. What we've come to see, we know that this is a solvable issue. If you have the supports in it place, you have the supportive housing, people can and will leave the streets permanently. So we have to invest in these solutions. And more of these smaller 1-stop shops around the county is the way to do it want CAVANAUGH: When you count the homeless population, to be clear, you count the people who are living on the streets and in shelters, right? CALLSTROM: Correct. CAVANAUGH: You're not counting people who are maybe living with relatives or crashing on sofas somewhere because we have talked about that before. CALLSTROM: Right. When we do the street count, if you will, it's seeing people who are on their own, in cars or vehicles, or in hand-built structures like in the riverbed, canyons. That's the street portion. And our day to day work is what we call the homeless management information system, where the backbone, the data center for all the providers in the county. So we know specifically how many people are in shelters and where and what the conditions are. So we put the two together, and that constitutes the count that we complete. And we don't do it just for the sake of the count. This is required by HUD, which is the primary funder for services around the country, and to inform our elected leaders what the situation is. CAVANAUGH: Besides seeing this permanent housing familiarity complex with its services own to help the homeless problem in San Diego, what would be the next thing you would like to see done? CALLSTROM: It's more of these centers regionally. The downtown problem is most prevalent. But we need more of these regionalized solutions so we can have this 1-stop shop where people can get the full service they need and the support they're after so they can leave homelessness permanently. This isn't just about in and out and clean up and get better for a while, it's about ending it. We need more of this. This is the solution and the model. The other solutions that are in place are still critically important in this fabric of the social safety net that we have, the shelters are critically important, the outreach that's happening with projects like Alpha and St. Vincent's, and so many of the other great providers around the county. So we need more of this. We need the leadership of Mr. Gloria and the City Council and the mayors across the county, and the county supervisors, who are behind this, it's about keeping our eye on the ball so we don't step back and think that others will take care of this. CAVANAUGH: Councilman, if indeed it's decided -- the City Council meets I believe in September, and they need a temporary shelter needed, when would it open? GLORIA: Our expectation would be that it would open normally as it does around Thanksgiving. That would be our hope. CAVANAUGH: Can the city afford this considering that the permanent housing shelter is also being built? GLORIA: Well, are the beautiful thing about the budget reforms that we've put into place, we are working with a surplus. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk about that. We've fully funded our day center, we are restoring library hours and rec center hours, and putting more money toward homelessness. We do have the funds to do this, thanks to our housing commission. We're going to be able to do this, and if we have these funds available, we have a responsibility to do it. CALLSTROM: And regarding the Neal good center, thank you, thank you for being able to make that happen because that center is so critical again in the fabric downtown to have a place for people to go and get services. And we're so fortunate that again we have the leadership to see that, not to think that the connections housing will solve it. Because we all know it won't. That's going to be a quarter, perhaps, of the population. We got to keep going, and we need these other services there to address this in a holistic way. CAVANAUGH: Thank you both for this update. GLORIA: A pleasure. CALLSTROM: Thank you, Maureen.

This year was supposed to be the first when San Diego would not need a temporary homeless shelter.

A permanent shelter, Connections Housing, is being built at the old World Trade Center building on 1250 Sixth Ave.

The shelter was supposed to be finished by Dec. 1, but this week the City Council's Land Use and Housing Committee approved a backup plan for another temporary homeless shelter in case the permanent one isn't finished on time.


City Councilman Todd Gloria told KPBS the temporary homeless shelter is usually set up by Thanksgiving, so the City Council did not want to wait until the beginning of December to provide homeless housing. He also said there were delays caused by "some difficulties actually transferring the properties."

"The city owned it, we've sold it," he said. "The construction time frame was always one year, 365 days, so Connections Housing and our partners there got access on December 1 of last year. So according to their schedule, they'll open on December 1. They may be ability to open it sooner, but we don't want to take any chances. And there are a lot of administrative hurdles that need to be overcome."

He said while the City Council committee only took action this week, they've been working on a contingency plan for "some time."

Peter Callstrom, executive director of the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said in January's count of the homeless, they found 9,641 homeless people, with 55 percent living on the street. In downtown San Diego, about 1,000 people live on the street, he said.

While the new shelter will only have 134 beds, Gloria said it will also provide services year-round, which the temporary shelter could not do.


"You know I think that in San Diego, we care about our homeless year-round, not just 16 weeks in the wintertime," he said. "We can do better that that. Once Connections opens, you'll have 52 weeks a year of services."

Temporary housing would likely be in the same location as last year, on Newton Ave. in Barrio Logan.