The homeless in downtown San Diego move along streets with their belongings.
The homeless in downtown San Diego move along streets with their belongings. Photo by Chris Stone

The City Council Tuesday approved a plan to spend $6.5 million on industrial-sized tents to accommodate the homeless in Barrio Logan, the East Village and the Midway District.

The vote was 8-1, with Councilman David Alvarez opposed.

The so-called bridge shelter program is designed to serve 700 people, beginning Dec. 1 and ending June 30, 2018. The project includes a goal of having 65 percent of homeless people in the tents eventually move into permanent housing.

Several council members, including Myrtle Cole and Georgette Gomez, stressed that the city needs to strive for more affordable, permanent housing. Councilman Chris Cate said the homeless crisis is “one of the few issues were everyone agrees something has to be done.”

“If we believe there is one silver-bullet solution, we’re all kidding ourselves,” Cate said.

Alvarez said he opposed the project because the money being spent on it represents “hundreds of (housing) units that won’t be built.” He said he was also concerned about the estimated cost of roughly $1,700 per person.

Earlier Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved $500,000 in rental assistance for the homeless in unincorporated areas of San Diego County. The money comes from the federal HOME Investment Partnership, a flexible affordable housing grant. The board voted to reallocate those funds for two years of rental assistance for homeless people.

According to a census performed on one night in April, there were 326 people living in unincorporated areas of San Diego County.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said she was concerned the county would be unable to ensure beneficiaries of the program were finding employment after being accepting into it. The county is unable to put such requirements on the program because it involves a federal grant, she said.

“It’s my strong belief that we should hold individuals that receive housing assistance accountable,” she said. “There’s no real guarantee that these individuals in two years time will be self-sufficient.”

County staff estimated that around 100 people — in 60 households — would accept the help, which could last for up to two years. Participants would also be offered help with food, childcare, healthcare and senior services.

The county Health and Human Services Agency already assists with outreach providing emergency shelter options and homelessness prevention, according to a staff report.

Prior to the City Council’s vote on its tent program, Mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke in favor of the idea, saying it “will serve as a starting point, not an end point” toward reducing the city’s homeless crisis.

“While we work to match folks with a permanent home, they need a safe place to stay,” Faulconer said.

The tents in the city program will be operated by the nonprofit Alpha Project, St. Vincent de Paul Village and Veterans Village of San Diego.

City officials have been under pressure to act because of an exploding number of people living on San Diego’s streets, along with an associated outbreak of hepatitis A.

Critics of the tents proposal contended the plan will take money from programs that provide permanent housing and services that result in longer-term success for participants.

Faulconer, though, called the “temporary bridge shelters” a “crucial transition point” where housing experts will help homeless people find placements in permanent housing.

According to Faulconer’s office, the temporary shelters will offer 700 beds, along with 24-hour security, meals, showers, bathrooms, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, mental health services, job training, health care and case managers to help people find permanent housing.

“Offering more clean and safe spaces that transition the homeless from living on the streets to living in a permanent home is exactly what San Diego needs right now,” Faulconer said previously. “This represents a significant expansion of our homeless service network and is one of the most immediate and effective actions we can take to provide relief to unsheltered people who are suffering and want help.”

The plan calls for tents to be located at:

  • The parking lot on Father Joe’s Villages campus at 14th and Commercial streets in the East Village
  • A vacant lot in the 2700 block of Sports Arena Boulevard, behind the Goodwill store, in the Midway District
  • A vacated area at 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan.

–City News Service