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San Diego City Council Votes To Proceed With Housing Navigation Center

The future Housing Navigation Center for Homeless Services building, Jan. 30, 2018.
Matt Hoffman
The future Housing Navigation Center for Homeless Services building, Jan. 30, 2018.
San Diego City Council Votes To Proceed With Housing Navigation Center
San Diego City Council Votes To Proceed With Housing Navigation Center GUEST: Lisa Halverstadt, investigative reporter, Voice of San Diego

Nearly 5000 San Diego residents are homeless according to the last point in time count. Yesterday the city council voted to move forward on a contract with family health centers of San Diego. That's the organization selected to run a new homeless navigation center at a former indoor skydiving facility in East Village. A center Mayor Kevin Faulconer has been touting. Do we need more housing. Yes. Do we need to coordinate our services more effectively with the Navigation Center. Yes we can and we should do both. But now that the plan has been approved how soon could it materialize. Lisa Halberstadt who's been covering this closely for the Voice of San Diego is joining me. Lisa thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. All right. Lisa talk about how the center would work what types of services would be available and who it would serve. So the mayor's office has envisioned a center where a homeless person could come in whether they walk in or be connected through outreach and be connected with a range of services that for now we know for sure would be provided by family health centers of San Diego. And by the County of San Diego they would be able to be connected with potentially health services perhaps there's some talk of maybe the DMV having an office there where folks could more easily get IDs. The general concept behind this is that you know as a homeless person living on the street it can be really difficult to get all the paperwork together to be connected with all these different services people really struggle to get from place to place and it can keep them on the streets for longer. And Mayor Kevin Faulconer has argued that having a center like this would more efficiently help people be connected with services and housing because there would also be through the Family Health Centers team people that would be focused on trying to come up with housing plans for those who use the center. Now every member of this city council was on board with the idea until recently. Here's Council member Chris Ward who represents the district where the center will actually go. This is a major investment and we are taking housing dollars and we are taking general fund dollars that could be used for actual different kinds of outcomes that could help people's lives today and help people's lives into perpetuity. Now that was councilman Chris Ward at yesterday's council meeting. So what changed. Well back when this purchase of the 7 million dollar skydiving building it's a former skydiving center in East Village. Back when that was approved the city was in the midst of a hepatitis A outbreak and there was a lot of rush to try to address our homelessness crisis and come up with more solutions. And since that time that the city council approved the purchase of the building we have seen how the bridge shelters have worked and other services that the city has stepped up to provide. And what Chris Ward and others would say is that what it's really shown is that there's a big gap in terms of housing. So the bridge shelters the three shelters that the city opened up late last year early this year have really struggled to move clients into housing. And so Ward and others have said the city should focus more on addressing the gap in housing because it's difficult to navigate someone to something that doesn't exist. And the purpose of the center would be to try to connect folks with housing and services. But what if you don't have those housing and services to connect them. Right. So could the city use the money it is spending on the new home was centered then to pay for permanent supportive housing for the homeless. That's a complex question. What what the city has said is that it's not necessarily money that could be spent on something else. City Councilman David Alvarez who represents the Barrio Logan and other communities around it did make the argument yesterday that perhaps the city could use the money that it's using for this project on the sort of infrastructure that would support housing projects. But there's quite a bit of debate about this. Was there any clarity yesterday from the mayor's office about what will happen moving forward and whether any agencies will be involved. So yesterday the mayor's office said that they expect that the center could open in about three to four months. And the mayor's office is consistent consistently said that they do think that there will be multiple service providers that will step up to partner with Family Health Centers of San Diego. But as of yesterday only the county of San Diego had officially come forward to say what services it might provide there. We'll be watching closely in coming weeks and months to see what other agencies step forward and formally agree to be there has the mayor's office said how many will the center is expected to serve the mayor's office could not provide an estimate yesterday when asked about this. It will be interesting to see you know how many folks walk into the center versus are reached during through the process of outreach. Now this was most likely the last major vote on homelessness for democratic council president Cole who just lost her re-election bid. Do you have any insight into what may have led her to side with her Republican colleagues. It's hard to say. She certainly actually made the motion to support the votes to move forward with this. She did say at the time the city council meeting that she believes that the city needed to better serve homeless San Diego and off are a sort of entry point to connect them to services. But it's not clear what might have been happening behind the scenes or where she may have wavered on this in the past. It's just it's not clear she really other than the city council vote that occurred back in January to purchase the building. She really hasn't had much to say about the concept publicly. And finally is there any timeline for when the center may open the city believes that the center could open in about three to four months. Obviously there's a lot of work to be done. There will need to be some building upgrades family health centers will obviously have to make some hires and obviously will also be trying to seek out partners to participate. I've been speaking with Lisa Halberstadt from the voice of San Diego. Lisa thanks so much for joining. Thanks for having me.

The San Diego City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to proceed with a proposed Housing Navigation Center that will offer services and programs to help homeless residents find housing and obtain medical care, mental health treatment, job training and other supportive services.

With the vote, the city enters into a one-year agreement from Dec. 1, 2018 to Nov. 30, 2019 with Family Health Centers of San Diego to operate the center. The agreement includes four optional one-year extensions.

The council, acting as the San Diego Housing Authority, also authorized a memorandum of understanding on the roles the city and the San Diego Housing Commission will play in the operation of the navigation center, with the Housing Commission overseeing the day-to-day management and oversight of the facility.

"Helping someone transition from homelessness isn't just about finding an apartment, it is about rebuilding a life," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "A navigation center will be where this starts. Where people can find financial assistance to get back on their feet; where people can reconnect with family; where people can get an ID, assistance from (Veterans Affairs) benefits or access to healthcare from county and federal services."

RELATED: City To Buy Downtown Building To House Homeless Services Center

The council voted unanimously in January to purchase a building in downtown San Diego that will eventually house the navigation center. The city agreed to pay $7.3 million for a building at 1401 Imperial Ave., adjacent to Father Joe's Villages and a trolley station.

Funding for the navigation center is expected to total $1.8 million during the first year and $1.5 million each subsequent year, with $1 million annually coming from the city's Community Development Block Grant program.

The vote could be the council's last significant one before the three new City Council members are sworn in next month, and it did not lack partisan politics despite the council being technically nonpartisan. Democratic City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole voted with the council's four Republicans in favor of the proposal, while Democratic City Council members Barbara Bry, Chris Ward, David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez voted against it.

Council Democrats noted that the navigation center does not include sorely needed new housing units. Ward, who represents the district the navigation center will be in, argued that the center does nothing new to assist the city's homeless population.

"This no longer aspires to be a one-stop, low-barrier shelter model with access to multiple providers and on-site services, targeting the chronically homeless and those living in encampments," Ward said. "Instead, this proposal will provide zero additional shelter beds, zero additional housing units, and zero additional services for our vulnerable population."

City officials remain unsure how many homeless residents will use the navigation center each year. The city's 2018 Point in Time report found San Diego's unsheltered homeless population at roughly 5,000, with another 3,500 homeless residents in emergency shelters and transitional housing.