Kevin Faulconer at the convention center
Mayor Kevin Faulconer at opening of the San Diego Convention Center to the homeless. Image from live stream

As hundreds of unsheltered San Diegans were moving Tuesday into the San Diego Convention Center, the City Council approved a $3.7 million state emergency funding grant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez collaborated with the council to secure the grant, which will add to about $1.6 million in state-backed emergency funds from San Diego County and $1.7 million from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless for the same purpose.

This grows the total additional resources directed to “Operation Shelter to Home” at the San Diego Convention Center to $7.1 million, which has partnered with the city to temporarily repurpose the center as a regional homeless shelter.

“The convention center has undergone a remarkable transformation in just a few days, becoming an extraordinary symbol of San Diego rising to this occasion and using every resource at our disposal to fight COVID-19,” Faulconer said.

Before Wednesday morning, more than 800 people experiencing homelessness will have moved into the center, which was empty just 10 days ago. More than 200 individuals from Father Joe’s Villages Paul Mirabile Center and scores more from the temporary shelter on the ground floor of Golden Hall began transitioning to the tourist destination Tuesday, freeing up space at the Mirabile shelter on Imperial Avenue.

According to the city’s own figures, it would pay $1.2 million per month for the 829 individuals currently in the center, but was shooting for a goal of 1,500 individuals and a monthly bill of $2.8 million, or $1,866 per person per month.

Those with chronic health conditions will be placed at the nearly vacated Father Joe’s Paul Mirabile Center where medical support staff can assist them. These moves help centralize services, a statement from Faulconer’s office said, and can maximize staffing. With more space than current shelter facilities, the convention center allows for physical distancing between individuals.

Mayor Faulconer addressed the council before the vote to emphasize the convention center is part of a coordinated regional approach to help sheltered and unsheltered individuals remain healthy during the COVID-19 crisis. Faulconer and other public officials announced on March 23 that the center would be repurposed.

The city also reached an agreement with the county, RTFH and the San Diego Housing Commission detailing roles, responsibilities and financial terms for Operation Shelter to Home. The city will act as the fiscal agent for its $3.7 million grant and will also manage funds from the county and the RTFH.

Eligible uses for the state funding include but are not limited to increasing shelter capacity, support for acquiring hotels and other alternative isolation placements, securing furnishings, supplies, and equipment needed to maintain a sanitary environment and distributing supplies and equipment to meet the urgent physical needs of unsheltered people and to protect staff from COVID- 19.

Case managers and housing navigators will be focused on identifying the most appropriate exit strategy for shelter clients and working to quickly end their cycle of homelessness, officials said.

Individuals are being moved in phases to ensure needs and resources are scaled appropriately, a city statement said. Tuesday marked the third phase of relocations following moves over the past week from three of the city’s bridge shelters operated by Alpha Project and Veterans Village of San Diego.

Once all groups are settled and physical distancing requirements have been met, capacity will be assessed to take in other unsheltered San Diegans.

Proper hygiene, sanitation and monitoring of individuals are a few of the precautionary measures being taken to prevent the spread of illness within the temporary shelter. Clients and staff are being screened daily by temperature check and verbal questionnaire by homeless service providers or San Diego public health nurses. They are also instructed to wash and sanitize their hands upon each re-entry into the facility.

Persons exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be evaluated by a nurse or other medical personnel too see if they need to transfer to an on-site isolation area, off-site isolation or a medical treatment facility for significant severe symptoms.

“We know this crisis has put the unsheltered at special risk and it has decimated the local tourism economy. The funding we authorized at the state level helps fight back on both these issues — providing shelter for our most vulnerable while also putting many convention center employees back to work,” Gonzalez said.

— City News Service