Oct. 3 2012 12:00 AM

Storage facility for homeless people's stuff given notice to vacate

The Water Man Check-In Center
Photo Kelly Davis
In July, we published an editorial about the Check-In Center storage facility for the homeless and how the building where it's located, Downtown on Ninth Avenue near Broadway, is scheduled to be demolished in November to make way for a low-income housing project. We hoped that, with the help of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a politically powerful organization that advocates on behalf of Downtown businesses, a new location would be found for the facility, which holds roughly 360 storage bins where homeless folks can store their stuff.

On Oct. 15, the Girls Think Tank, the small nonprofit that took over operation of the Check-In Center earlier this year, got notice that they'd have to vacate the building by the end of this month. Noor Kazmi, GTT's president, and Jacky Vel, the Check-In Center's director of operations, gave a presentation today to the City Council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee about the center and its future. 

Kazmi and Vel said there have been "extensive discussions" about a new location, but so far they've been unsuccessful. Right now, they're looking at property owned by St. Vincent de Paul-a sloped dirt lot that would require significant remediation. "It needs leveling, hard-topping, fencing, utilities," Vel said. "That's not a three-week project." ---

The Check-In Center (originally called the Water Man Check-In Center, after David Ross, who hands out water to the homeless) opened in January 2011 in an empty building owned by the city's redevelopment agency. Its start-up and first-year operating costs-$100,000-were paid for by the city, the result of a legal settlement stemming from a Sept. 22, 2009, incident in which employees with the city's Environmental Services Department threw away homeless people's possessions without providing sufficient notice or following city law.

After that initial funding ran out, the City Council pledged $45,000 from their discretionary Community Projects, Programs and Services (CPPS) budget to keep the center open through June 30, 2012. The Girls Think Tank has come up with $42,000 in donations to keep it going since then. They're asking the council for another $45,000 to cover rent, operating costs and site remediation. 

"I think this is critically important," Councilmember Todd Gloria said at today's meeting. "It's taking tons of material off the street." 

Having nowhere to put your stuff "perpetuates the cycle of homelessness," he added. "Who's going to go to a job interview with everything you own on your back?"

Emerald pledged $7,000 from her CPPS budget and Gloria pledged $10,000 from his, but pointed out that the grants aren't meant to be ongoing sources of funding. "Is it Girls Think Tank's intention in the long run to be sustainable through your own fundraising and grant-writing efforts?" he asked.

Kazmi said it was. 

The Check-In Center is modeled after a program in L.A., the Central City East Association Check-In Center, which is funded by fees from CCEA-member businesses and a grant from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. CCEA is similar to the Downtown San Diego Partnership.

Councilmember Lorie Zapf wanted to know if GTT's been contacting Downtown business owners to see if they'd be willing to help fund the Check-In Center. Kazmi said they've been talking to the Downtown Partnership about it-that perhaps a business could sponsor a bin. Kazmi told me there had been some very preliminary discussions about the partnership funding 20 bins. 

The settlement included language saying that the city would make its "best effort" to keep the Check-In Center going beyond its first year. Chief Deputy City Attorney Dan Bamberg, who helped negotiate the settlement, said he felt the city was meeting the that requirement. 

"The city has been extremely involved in trying to keep this operation open," he said. "The trouble is, the redevelopment agency from whom we first got the warehouse was committed to putting low-income housing on that particular site and they're going to start tearing that down. To say that time is short is an understatement."


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