It's a chilly January morning, and Danny McCray's gloved hands are soaking wet from moving rainwater-topped bins at the Check-In Center, where he's both ambassador and security guard. Located in a parking lot at 16th and Commercial streets, up to 250 homeless people can "rent" the bins, for free, to store their possessions.
"Each one of these bins, it's like a person's closet," says Adam, a client of the Check-In Center who declined to give his last name.
The center opened in January 2011, in a small, city-owned warehouse at Ninth Avenue and Broadway, part of a legal settlement stemming from city employees destroying homeless people's property. In October, it had to move to make way for an affordable-housing project; after an unsuccessful search for a new location, St. Vincent de Paul Village agreed to let Girls Think Tank—the nonprofit that operates the Check-In Center—use its parking lot, rent-free. The initial agreement had a Jan. 1, 2013, expiration that's since been extended.
"They've let us know that they're not going to kick us out onto the street," says Noor Kazmi, Girls Think Tank's president. But they don't want to overstay their welcome.
"So, the pressure's really on to move to someplace that's convenient for the population and that's welcoming, kind of how it was before," she says.
At first, there were concerns that the lot—enclosed by a metal fence—wouldn't provide protection from rain and looters. But, so far, nothing's been damaged or stolen, Kazmi says. Though, there are little things that are different—at the other location, McCray kept an iron handy so folks could touch up their clothes. Having a place to store their things has been the small push some people needed to go find a job. "Don't let this bin be a goal; let it be your stepping stone," McCray tells people.
"We can't do a whole lot of anything here," he says. "We're just functional. People can access their bins, and that's about it."
Keith Jones, the new chair of the board of directors of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a powerful business-advocacy organization, tells CityBeat that the partnership will help find a new location for the Check-In Center.
"As they identify, and as we identify, potential sites to move this program, we look forward to being an active participant with the Girls Think Tank," Jones says.
And, the Check-In Center was a priority at the first meeting of a homelessness-focused task force headed by Mayor Bob Filner's fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram.
"The first agenda item for her was a new location for the storage center," Kazmi says, "so, that was really cool to have everybody in the room talking about that."