On the campaign trail, Bob Filner promised he'd make San Diego's emergency homeless shelters— normally open only during the winter—available year-round. And, as mayor, he included nearly $2 million to do this in the city budget that took effect July 1.
But, early on, there were warnings that it wasn't enough. A June 3 letter from San Diego Housing Commission Vice President Mathew Packard to Amy Gowan, the city's assistant deputy director of economic development, warned that the money Filner allocated didn't take into account routine expenses, like utilities, and also failed to include money for unforeseen expenses that might result from having the city's two shelters—a facility for single adults in Barrio Logan and one for vets on Sports Arena Boulevard—open beyond their normal four months. Packard says Filner didn't consult with the Housing Commission, which administers the shelter contracts, prior to including money in the budget to keep the shelters open year-round.
"We found out when the public found out," Packard says.
The funding was supposed to keep the shelters open a full year, beginning July 1, 2013.
Bob McElroy, CEO of Alpha Project, which runs the adult shelter, says Filner promised him that as long as he was mayor, the shelters wouldn't close. According to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, more than 3,000 people are without shelter nightly in San Diego.
An Aug. 22 memo from Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry informed the mayor (who'd not yet resigned at that point) and the City Council that there's money enough to keep the shelters open only through April 1, 2014. The memo says that if the program were to become year-round permanently, it would cost roughly $933,267 more than Filner had budgeted.
McElroy says that despite the shelter's 220 beds, he's still turning away roughly three-dozen people each night. While there's been criticism that some folks are using the shelter for long-term housing and not emergency need, McElroy says beds are being used to "detox" people from the street—to get them stabilized and ready to move into programs like Connections Housing, which offers both transitional and permanent beds.
Interim mayor Todd Gloria says he's working with city staff and the Housing Commission to explore ways to stretch shelter funding, including a close look at administrative costs. But, he adds, "it's important we recognize the possibility that the shelters will have to close in April."
"It's extremely unfortunate that Mr. Filner allotted insufficient funds to keep our shelters open year round as promised," he says.