Dec. 9 2015 12:44 AM

San Diego’s mixed message on inclement-weather beds

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Paul Mirabile Center
Photo courtesy of the City of San Diego / Youtube

San Diego has traditionally added extra “inclement weather” shelter beds for the homeless during the winter. For decades that’s taken the shape of two massive temporary tents erected in Barrio Logan and Midway District. This year the City Council voted not to erect those tents. And now the mayor and the political establishment are playing a shell game with the available space where homeless folks can sleep during what forecasters say will be an especially wet El Niño winter.

It’s been heralded by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and widely reported, that “the city’s recently opened year-round indoor permanent housing program is on track to help more homeless individuals than ever before.”

Indeed, creating more—many more— “rapid re-housing” opportunities should be a political priority. The Paul Mirabile Center in East Village had been deemed “transitional housing,” where residents could stay up to a year. Now it’s run by the city and is classified as “interim housing,” meaning residents can stay up to 90 days and are being assisted into more permanent living situations.

When you parse the politi-speak, however, a closer inspection of “winter shelter” for the homeless shows there are fewer beds up for grabs this year over last.

The Paul Mirabile Center—whether deemed transitional last winter, or interim and run by the city this winter—has 350 beds. That’s a wash in my book. It’s the same inventory no matter who is running it.

Mayoral spokesperson Craig Gustafson disagrees. “The apples-to-apples comparison is that the city used to provide 350 beds in two outdoor temporary tents for a few months,” he says. “Now the city provides 350 indoor permanent beds year-round with supportive services and will make room for an additional 250 people when inclement weather strikes.”

With the two winter tents’ 350-plus beds now out of the picture, the structures tabbed for emergency housing during cold or wet weather are the dining hall at Father Joe’s Village—where cots will have to be swapped in and out with dining tables— and the Neil Good Day Center. There’s space for 200 cots at the dining center and 50 at the Neil Good Center.

That’s at least 100 fewer winter shelter beds, in a less-ideal setting, than last year.

Says Gustafson: “The new approach the city is taking toward homelessness is resulting in more overall bed nights, more supportive services and more successful exits.”

To that, kudos. It’s not surprising the city won’t address or confirm a short-term deficit, but it’s mildly encouraging it’s finally talking about a long term approach. Remember: Our homeless numbers have spiked by 3 percent countywide and by 26 percent in downtown San Diego. The count from earlier this year found 8,742 homeless people in our region. Of that number, more than 4,000 are unsheltered.

San Diego lags other cities in the country in eliminating homelessness. We’ve moved up steadily over the last eight years to claim the national rank of number four in homeless populations (behind New York City, Los Angeles and Seattle).

This Navy town is not doing any better at housing veterans. San Diego is one of 75 cities participating in the national initiative Zero: 2016. The goal of that initiative is to functionally eradicate veteran homelessness. Of those 75 cities, just 26 already have hit or will hit that goal at the end of this year. San Diego isn’t one of the 26, and isn’t even on track to meet that goal by the end of 2016.

It’s time to toss the rosy political narrative of “We’re doing enough” out the window. Let’s talk about real success using real numbers and let’s not be afraid to study and learn from our failures.


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