Storage center for the homeless opens Wednesday morning

SAN DIEGO — A new storage center for the homeless — aimed at providing a safe place for people’s belongings as they seek jobs and services while also reducing public clutter — is set to open in Sherman Heights this week.

The city gave a preview tour of the new Storage Connect Center Tuesday ahead of the grand opening on Wednesday morning. The 22,000 square-foot center, operated by the non-profit Mental Health Systems, will provide up to 500 lockable storage bins at the corner of 20th and Commercial Streets.

It’s part of the city’s “Connect, Support, House” strategy to reduce homelessness in San Diego. Officials say the center will remove a major barrier for homeless individuals looking for supportive services or a job interview, but afraid of having their belongings stolen while they do so.

But neighbors near the center worry the building will attract crime and other public safety issues to the area.

FOX 5 checked in to the Think Dignity Transitional Storage Center down the road in the East Village to see how a similar facility is faring in town.

We met Raquel McGuire — an owner of one of the coveted bins — outside the 16th Street facility. The Think Dignity site, which opened in 2011, has 400 lockers and bins. Every unit is taken and on top of that, there is a waiting list of 150 people.

“Everybody’s trying to get in,” said Danny McCray, the site supervisor. McCray said to get a bin at the center, there are rules. First, no shopping carts — and second, you must downsize. “They keep the most important stuff in their lockers,” he explained. “Once they have that, they don’t have anything left to do but to look for a job or get their lives together.”

McCray said it works, with nearly 50 people having landed jobs in recent months. “We don’t let anyone hang out, or drink — none of that,” he added.

But those who live and work near the center, voiced a more wary tone. “I try not to let it bother me too much, because these are people with problems you know,” said resident Ryan Smith.  “Not gonna lie, it’s kind of annoying. Everywhere I look there’s homeless people.”

But locals say that in some ways, the storage facility has made for a safer community. “I always see cops,” said Smith.  “They’re constantly patrolling and keeping this area safe.”

“I haven’t seen any major crime or fighting screaming or yelling,” another local told FOX 5.  “I haven’t had any problems with the homeless around here.”

San Diego Police said no major incidents have been reported near the 16th Street facility since it opened.

The city has tried to ease concerns for neighbors of the new facility with promises to increase police presence in the area as necessary, to help organize more frequent community cleanups in the area and to proactively remove any litter or graffiti on the premises. They’ll also be opening the center to the homeless community slowly, with the first 90 days requiring a referral to use the services.

Whether those measures are enough to soothe locals — including the staff, student and parents at Our Lady’s School, an elementary school with a playground bordering the facility that has voiced concerns about the project — will become more apparent in the weeks to come.