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For the first time in, well, ever, San Diego's winter homeless shelter could be open through the spring. 

The city's mid-year budget-monitoring report, presented at today's meeting of the City Council's Budget Committee, projects a $5.5-million surplus for the fiscal year ending in June. Of that money, $3.6 million's available for spending and Mayor Bob Filner set out how he'd like to spend it: ---

* $1.1 million to replace police equipment
* $500,000 for fire / rescue vehicle replacement
* $400,000 for two Portland Loos (see below) 
* $500,000 for Balboa Park's traffic-management plan 
* $300,000 toward planning for the Balboa Park centennial
* $300,000 to keep the winter shelter open for three months past its April 2 closing date
* $200,000 for maintenance and upgrades to the Kumeyaay campground and visitor center 

The document doesn't say why the mayor picked these things over others, but Filner made homelessness a priority during his campaign and has said he'd like to see the shelter, which holds 220 beds, open year around. 

But whether the shelter can legally remain open could be an issue. The city's able to site the shelter without a permit or environmental review by declaring a state of emergency due to cold temperatures and the lack of shelter beds. This raises the question of whether the council would need to vote to extend, or renew, that state of emergency. And, as the temperatures warm up, how would the city justify the emergency? At the committee meeting today, City Council President Todd Gloria asked whether it would be smarter to save that money and open the shelter earlier in the fall. The shelter normally doesn't open until after Thanksgiving. 

At his monthly press briefing this afternoon, Filner said he'd look into the legalities of keeping the shelter open—the city already declares a state of emergency due to the availability of affordable housing, he noted, adding: "Try to stay on the streets in a warm month. Let’s not dismiss the horrors of the street because it’s 50 degrees and not 30 degrees. I don’t want them on the street if it was 80 degrees."

He was also asked whether the shelter was needed, since Connections Housing, slated to open March 11, will provide 73 units of supportive housing, 134 short-term-stay beds and 16 special-needs units. 

Those additional beds won't solve homelessness, Filner said.

"Connections Housing is a great thing.... If you think that takes all the people off the street and we don’t need that winter tent, that’s just not true."

The Portland Loo, as I described in a September 2011 story, is a prefab, stainless-steel public restroom, big enough to hold a person and a bike or a mom and a stroller. Eco-friendly with its solar panels and low-flow toilet, its surfaces are graffiti-proof, and a system of louvers allows police to monitor activity inside it without infringing on privacy."

In June 2010, the City Council, at the urging of Girls Think Tank, a homeless-advocacy nonprofit, voted to allocate redevelopment money to purchase two loos, but the process of siting them was slow and when the state ended redevelopment last year, the project lost its funding. The loos cost roughly $87,500 each—not including shipping and installation—and around $24,000 a year to maintain. Filner said the money he earmarked—for two loos, to be located in the East Village—would cover the cost of maintenance.

The full City Council will vote on the recommendations March 11.

Got questions or comments? Write to kellyd@sdcitybeat.com.


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