April 27 2012 12:00 AM

Local nonprofit plans to operate storage facility for homeless

Water Man Check-In Center
Kelly Davis
In January, the San Diego City Council came up with funding to keep the Water Man Check-In Center open, but only through the end of June. The facility, located Downtown, gives homeless people a place to store their possessions and access them when needed. Open for just over a year and modeled after L.A.'s successful Personal Property Storage Facility for the Homeless, the Check-In Center is the result of a lawsuit over unannounced sweeps in East Village in which a number of homeless people had their possessions destroyed in violation of city policy. (The center's full name is in honor of David Ross, nicknamed "The Water Man," because he hands out bottled water to the homeless.)

The concern, obviously, was what would happen to the Check-In Center on July 1. It was being run by the Isaiah Project, a small nonprofit that lacked the capacity to fundraise on the scale necessary to keep the project going—it costs roughly $100,000 a year to operate). Yesterday, Girls Think Tank (GTT) announced that they're finalizing things with the Housing Commission to assume operation of the center. ---

GTT started in 2006 as a group of friends, all female attorneys in their 20s and 30s, who wanted to do something about homelessness. Their first project was putting together "survival kits"—backpacks that included things like water, toiletries, sunscreen—that they'd hand out to folks in East Village. Then they expanded to their Basic Dignity campaign, through which they advocated for better access to restrooms and drinking water for the homeless (more about that below). GTT's proven to be good fundraisers—their annual galas are always classy affairs; this year's happens Saturday, April 28.

Noor Kazmi, GTT's president, said the Check-In Center's employees will remain the same. And, she hopes that the exposure they'll get from this project will help them expand their mission.

"It's a big deal for us," she said. "There is so much support for this center, so now that our name is associated with it, we can really leverage that support to our other programs as we move forward."

The building that houses the Check-In Center, city-owned property at 917 Ninth Ave., is scheduled to be torn down in November. Kazmi said GTT's been told by the San Diego Housing Commission, which oversees the city's homeless-services programs, that they'll try to help find another location. 

"And so hopefully we can find something that's a lot bigger, hopefully in the East Village, which is more convenient for the homeless community," she said.

As for GTT's other major project—getting more 24-hour public restrooms Downtown—the end of June will mark two years since the City Council, in their capacity as the city's Redevelopment Agency, approved funding for two Portland Loos. Named after the city where they were created, the Loos are attractive, eco-friendly and virtually crime-proof. But, as I reported in September, their installation was held up pending a state Supreme Court decision on the future of redevelopment. The court ruled in late December that California cities must dissolve their redevelopment agencies, meaning it's unlikely the Loo project will happen. Kazmi said that once everything's sorted out with the Check-In Center, GTT's going to put their focus back on finding a way to get a Loo or two Downtown.


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