The city of San Diego's winter homeless shelter was supposed to close March 14, but private donations kept it open through April 4. On April 4, it was raining-pouring, actually-and Bob McElroy, chief executive officer of the Alpha Project, the nonprofit that operates the shelter, wasn't going to send the shelter's 210 inhabitants, many of whom are elderly, disabled and mentally ill, out into the rain. So he committed Alpha Project money to keep the shelter open one more day. Then he figured, why not push it another day? How about two weeks?
“We can't go one day at a time, so I'm going to have to make a commitment,” he said. “I have the responsibility of displacing 210 severely mentally ill and disabled seniors.”
As of Thursday, T-Wireless Mobil had promised three checks for $2,400-enough to cover three days of shelter operations. McElroy said he's received other private donations, including $52 from an 8-year-old boy who gave his lemonade-stand earnings to the shelter, but not quite enough yet to keep the shelter open for another two weeks.
Tony Phillips, Alpha Project's chief administrative officer, said it would be ideal, though costly ($550,000), to keep the shelter going all year long. Phillips pointed to a study out of UCSD that tracked 15 homeless mentally ill over 18 months and found that they ran up a tab for $1.5 million in social services over that period.
“Hell of a lot more” than the $12 per person per day it costs to run the shelter, Phillips said.
“Every penny of [donated] money goes to the winter shelter-$2,400 a day, $12 per person-that pays for food, housing, medical attention, case management, clothing, housing referral service, treatment referral and psychiatric case management,” McElroy said.
Donations can be sent to: The Alpha Project, Winter Shelter, 3737 Fifth Ave., #203, San Diego, 92103. 619-542-1877.