Mayor Todd Gloria announced Wednesday that the city is working with service providers to increase the shelters available for San Diegans experiencing homelessness during inclement weather.
During the past several weeks, the city Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department, San Diego Housing Commission and the Regional Task Force on Homelessness connected with providers, including the Alpha Project, Father Joe’s Villages, People Assisting the Homeless, San Diego Rescue Mission and other organizations to identify sites to add beds.
“Expanding shelter options to more San Diegans experiencing homelessness, particularly as we enter the coldest and wettest season of the year, is critical,” Gloria said. “By working with groups across our city, we will be able to offer more people the chance to get into a warm and clean environment on those cold, rainy days when they need it most,” he said.
Gloria has made addressing homelessness one of the foundational parts of his administration and the need to get those experiencing homelessness into safe shelter — particularly during inclement weather — was made clear earlier this year.
On March 15, a 72 year-old-man was accused of driving a station wagon that plowed into a San Diego sidewalk homeless encampment on B Street near San Diego City College, killing three people and injuring several others.
Craig Martin Voss was charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one count of driving under the influence of drugs causing injury in connection with the crash, which occurred during a rainy morning.
The defendant’s Volvo struck the victims after veering onto the sidewalk just after 9 a.m. beneath an overpass on B Street, according to investigators. A prosecutor alleged Tuesday that Voss’ vehicle only stopped because so much debris was trapped beneath the front wheels, preventing the Volvo from moving farther.
Killed in the crash were Rodney Diffendal, 40; Randy Ferris, 65; and Walter Jones, 61.
Since the crash, Gloria’s administration has attempted to expand the city’s shelter beds to keep those experiencing homelessness out of dangerous areas.
The collaborative approach announced Wednesday began with the addition of 65 beds to be activated during inclement weather — 55 at Father Joe’s Villages’ Paul Mirable Center and 10 beds operated by the San Diego Rescue Mission. Additional sites are under evaluation by the city, RTFH and SDHC for even greater capacity.
“This is the kind of inter-agency collaboration we need to help people off the streets and into shelter,” Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn said.
Criteria for the activation of the additional beds is a temperature 50 degrees or below and a 40% chance of rain or a temperature of 45 degrees or below regardless of a chance of rain or in exceptional weather conditions, such as one or more inches of rain within 24 hours and sustained high winds.
“No San Diegan should have to sleep on the streets where they are subjected to enduring the elements, including cold and wet weather,” said Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages. “We as a community must come together to ensure our neighbors are not left behind during the winter months.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many shelters have been operating under reduced capacities to ensure greater physical distancing and prevent the potential spread of the virus. As staffing levels have permitted, the city and SDHC have worked with service providers to continue to increase capacities for daily shelter use.
“Increasing the availability of shelter options in multiple locations when we have cold, rainy and windy weather is essential for our homeless residents,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the RTFH. “Working with new and existing providers, we can provide dry, warm and safe shelter to meet people’s needs during inclement weather, reducing the potential of health issues that could be life-threatening.”
Earlier this fall, 60 additional beds were opened at a city shelter operated by Alpha Project at 16th Street and Newton Avenue. Earlier this week, Father Joe’s Village opened 35 additional beds at its Paul Mirable Center.
City News Service contributed to this article.