San Diego City Council Renews Tent Shelter Contracts With Misgivings

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The emergency shelter for single adults in Barrio Logan. Courtesy San Diego Housing Commission

The San Diego City Council, also operating as the Housing Authority, Tuesday renewed operating and oversight agreements for the city’s three temporary tent shelters for the homeless over the objections of Councilman David Alvarez, who called the shelters a “complete failure.”

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“It’s been a tremendous, tremendous waste of money,” said Alvarez, who cast the lone dissenting vote against renewal. “At the path we’re going, we’re going to continue spending millions and millions of dollars to not get people housed.”

The renewal term for agreements with Alpha Project for the Homeless, Veterans Village of San Diego and Father Joe’s Villages — which each operate one shelter — run from July through September and cost a cumulative $2.5 million. Funding will come from Housing Commission permanent housing funds.

Initial shelter operation contracts, approved by the City Council in November, drew $6.5 million from commission permanent housing funds, though operators have so far come in below budget, Housing First Director Lisa Jones said. On March 31, occupancy rates between the three shelters varied from 84 to 99 percent.

The tent shelters, which opened between November and January, are intended to serve as bridges to permanent housing. But placements have been underwhelming.

Of 1,576 people served since the shelters opened, only 183 people have found consistent housing through April, according to the Housing Commission.

More than 70 percent of intakes have not been matched with a housing source, nor are they “reasonably expected” to be within 120 days of residence in the tent shelters, Jones said.

Regional Task Force on the Homeless officials indicated before the shelters opened that most individuals who entered them would be housing-ready, Jones said, yet referral lists and other data were found to be outdated.

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Alvarez said the city needs to “stop the bleeding” on shelter funding.

“It’s supposed to be a bridge to something — it’s not really been a bridge for many people,” Alvarez said. “It sounds like you were misled or given wrong information by the Regional Task Force … . There’s been a lot of misleading happening, and that leads to bad decision-making.”

The three-month operating extension approved Tuesday provides time to complete a third-party evaluation of the shelters to determine data regarding stay lengths, occupancy and placement rates.

The Housing Commission requested the study, which is underway, to assess shelter operations and ensure “program design, program expectations and contractual requirements do not in and of themselves create any barriers to successful housing outcomes.”

The initial evaluation is due by May 30, and recommendations to improve the program are expected by June 30.

“I’m really anxious to know the consultants’ measurements,” Councilman Chris Ward said. “I think we’ll get a really good independent evaluation of the capacities, and hopefully also some of the shortcomings that need to be corrected as we tackle this.”

City News Service

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