May 18, 2020; Voice of San Diego
Faced with the pandemic, San Diego city officials weeks ago converted the Convention Center into a temporary shelter for homeless residents, where currently 1,200 people are housed. Yet, as Lisa Halverstadt and Kayla Jimenez write in Voice of San Diego, “thousands of homeless people throughout the county remain outside.”
While the convention center is able to house many homeless people within the city of San Diego, many other cities in San Diego County (the city is home to about 1.425 million people, while the county has more than 1.9 million additional residents outside of city boundaries) are falling short.
In theory, CARES money from the federal government should help provide emergency shelter funds. In reality, additional safe havens or subsidies could take weeks to materialize.
In the meantime, write Halverstadt and Jimenez, “homeless people outside of the city of San Diego who are eager to move off the streets are grappling with what to do. They’re facing increasing challenges amid dwindling access to basic needs such as food, restrooms, and showers during the pandemic due to countywide closures.”
In North County, data from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless reveals about 570 more homeless individuals were staying in shelter beds or hotel rooms overseen by service providers on May 1st than on March 1st. This represents only about one-seventh of the unsheltered population tallied during this January’s homeless census.
Making matters even more challenging is that the need for physical distancing has reduced the capacity of many existing homeless shelters. For instance, in Escondido, a city in northern San Diego County, Interfaith Community Services says it has had to reduce occupancy at its 49-bed shelter to 20 people.
And even with the pre-pandemic higher capacities, there was a large shortfall. While the latest homeless census tallied more than 770 unsheltered people in North County, there are just three shelters in the area with 144 beds in Carlsbad, Vista and Escondido.
Tamera Kohler, CEO of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, acknowledges that the novel coronavirus has further exposed a shortage of shelter options for homeless San Diegans that existed long before the pandemic. “It just highlights our scarcity of resources,” Kohler says.
Then there are other challenges. For example, last week, the city of Chula Vista, a city located in southern San Diego County near the border with Mexico, voted last week to accept a donated shelter tent. But Halverstadt and Jimenez report that it might not open for months until city officials settle on a location and a provider to operate it.
Chula Vista’s City Council also voted to accept 10 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers provided by the state. These too, however, won’t open for a while. The local nonprofit in charge of managing the trailers, South Bay Community Services, says that it expects it will take up to a month to set up plumbing, electricity, and other services.
Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas tells Halverstadt and Jimenez that the city wants to offer more shelter and expresses a “commitment to help those less fortunate” as quickly as possible but acknowledges that multiple steps remain before her city can reach its housing goal.—Steve Dubb