Folks line up for dinner at San Diego's annual winter homeless shelter. Photo by Kelly Davis.
Well, better late than never. We'd like to have seen a recommendation at least six months ago from a city of San Diego task force on a long-term strategy for helping chronically homeless people, but we have one now, and we see it as an extremely positive development.
We've known for some time that a city task force was considering two proposals for a new facility that would include social services for chronically homeless people and some new long-term supportive housing units—essentially a studio-apartment complex that comes with individual case management for the residents. One proposal was from Father Joe Carroll, who's created something of a homelessness empire in San Diego; the other was from PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit aimed at helping people break the cycle of homelessness and become self-sufficient. The task force recommended PATH's proposal. We're pleased to know that the city is not firmly tucked into Father Joe's pocket. Don't get us wrong; he's helped a lot of people, but we're excited about having a new player on the scene with a new strategy.
PATH proposes to take over the city-owned World Trade Center building on Sixth Avenue, Downtown, between A and B streets, and fill it with 75 supportive apartments, created by Affirmed Housing Group, a local affordable-housing developer, and 150 additional emergency or transitional beds. PATH would partner with Alpha Project, which currently operates the winter shelter, and Veterans Village of San Diego, to provide an array of services, and Family Health Centers would operate a medical clinic that would also be available to the non-homeless public.
The task force preferred PATH over Father Joe for four reasons: 1) PATH would redevelop a historic but underused building, generating some revenue for the city from the lease or purchase of the structure, while Father Joe proposed new construction; 2) because PATH would use an existing building, the upfront costs are about $12 million lower than Father Joe's; 3) PATH's plan for financing operating expenses was deemed more reliable; and 4) PATH's proposal is more committed to the so-called “housing first” strategy that has become en vogue elsewhere in the U.S.—the idea that chronically homeless people can't begin to break down the barriers that block them from self-sufficiency until they have a safe, stable place to lay their heads.
And there sits the big, ugly, smelly gorilla in the room. PATH's path essentially trades in emergency shelter beds, at least in wintertime, for a smaller number of long-term housing units. The task force has chosen to move away from warehousing people in a shelter, and for good reason—shelters are highly unpleasant places in which to sleep. But they are, in fact, shelter, and the task force envisions ending the winter shelter, as well as the Neil Good Day Center, and using the money that's currently dedicated to those facilities to help fund the new center.
That's a problem. Even after the new center is up and running, it provides only 225 beds, far fewer than the 370 offered by the winter shelter. So, that's 145 fewer people who'll have a roof over their heads in wintertime, not to mention the 100-plus people who are turned away because there are not enough shelter beds as it is. That will certainly come as bad news for the Downtown condo residents and business owners who can't wait for the police to start issuing tickets for sleeping in public—cops are under court order not to issue so-called illegal lodging tickets between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. until a judge decides there are enough shelter beds to meet demand.
We're on board with the housing-first strategy, but we won't support ending the winter shelter or shuttering the Neil Good Day Center until the city adds another 250 to 300 transitional beds—somewhere Downtown—to the 150 envisioned in PATH's proposal and until we're sure that the amenities provided by the day center are replaced.
Unfortunately, this will likely add to the amount of money still needed to make the new center a reality. Though these are soft estimates, the city's Housing Commission believes that after all the funding sources are exhausted, there's still an unfunded gap of between $300,000 and $3.8 million in terms of upfront costs. If the city doesn't shut down the winter shelter and day center, it might have to come up with as much as an additional $1.2 million for ongoing expenses.
The City Council's Land Use & Housing Committee will discuss the new facility proposal at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, on the 12th floor at City Hall (202 C St., Downtown). You can watch it live on cable TV or at www.sandiego.gov (click the “City TV” box on the right).
What do you think? Write to email@example.com.