On the day it opened in 1991, the roof of the Neil Good Day Center leaked.
“It's always had [problems],” said Bob McElroy, CEO of Alpha Project, the nonprofit homeless-services organization that operated the day center until last year, when the city handed over management of the site to St. Vincent de Paul, San Diego's largest homeless-services provider. It was a controversial move since Alpha Project had proposed increasing the day center's hours while St. Vincent's plan called for weekend hours to be cut. (The United Way has since provided funding to cover the cost of weekend operations.)
“The facility was not in great shape when we assumed responsibility,” said Mathew Packard, St. Vincent de Paul's vice president of development.
St. Vincent's asked for, and received, an additional $38,000 to pay for basic repairs. And in July of last year, the San Diego City Council earmarked $76,158 in federal Community Development Block Grant money (CDBG) for larger maintenance projects: fixing the center's showers—which a site inspection found to have “insufficient plumbing and improper ventilation”—adding an outdoor shade/rain structure and landscaping the center's large yard.
More than one year later, the showers are being used as a storage area, and the yard, stripped of almost all vegetation, resembles a middle-of-nowhere rest stop. Anyone who wishes to take a shower has to walk one block up and one block over to St. Vincent de Paul's Joan Kroc Center at 16th and Imperial.
Packard said city staff has told him that the money for repairs is pending, but he's not been given a time frame.
“We can't incur any expenses until the contract's signed, or else the expenses will be disallowed,” he said.
Named after local civil-rights activist Neil Good, the day center sits on 25,000 square feet of land along 17th Street in East Village. The city leases the site from Caltrans for $1 a year, and federal grants fund day-center operations ranging from providing mere refuge from the street to being a de-facto intake center where people can get referrals for job training, housing, drug treatment and other services.
McElroy said that Alpha Project had asked for additional money to make repairs to the building, but the city's answer was always no.
“If we couldn't fix it, it wasn't fixed,” he said.
Beth Murray, deputy director of the city's Economic Development Division, told CityBeat last Friday that staff who knew the status of the funding were out until Tuesday and would be able to answer questions then. CityBeat didn't receive a response by press time, though. Murray did say that she hopes there will be “progress on repairs this fiscal year.”
McElroy said Alpha Project's records show that between 40 and 60 people made use of the showers each day at Neil Good. David Ross, an advocate for the homeless who regularly hands out bottled water near the day center, said it's unacceptable for showers not to be offered on-site.
“Showers were the most significant part of that day center,” Ross said. “There's some handicapped people and it's difficult for them to get down that hill [to St. Vincent de Paul] and back up that hill. It's casually convenient to say, ‘Walk down the street and take a shower.'”
Editor's note: The initial title of this story was "18 months," referring to the time that's elapsed since the $76,158 was approved. It's actually been 14 months. We regret the error and promise to count better next time.
Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.