Homeless shelter leaders thank Gloria for keeping convention center open

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO at Father Joe’s Villages, praised San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria Saturday for extending the shelter operation at the San Diego Convention Center to protect hundreds of homeless San Diegans as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens.

“Father Joe’s Villages is thankful for the opportunity to continue serving people experiencing homelessness at the convention center during the pandemic,” Vargas said.

“As the city, county and homeless service providers of San Diego prioritize the safety of those living on our streets, it’s imperative that we provide the space for them to remain healthy and warm through the winter with access to comprehensive services, including health care and regular testing.

“We must continue doing all that we can to protect the health and safety of all residents in San Diego,” Vargas said.

On Friday, Gloria — acting without official council approval — directed city staff to provide funding to support operations through January using funds previously slated for shelter operations in November and December that remain unspent due to cost-saving measures and other factors, as well as to use available state grant funding specifically for homelessness-related programs and services.

“I am committed to protecting our homeless neighbors from COVID-19 while keeping a focus on connecting them to long-term housing,” Gloria said. “A temporary extension for this shelter will allow us to serve the greatest number of people in need with daily health screenings and other COVID protections.”

Gloria is proposing that the city authorize additional funding to allow for operations as late as the end of March, with plans to continue placing individuals as quickly as possible into permanent housing or navigating them safely into another shelter by that time. He intends to seek council approval of a financial plan and revised timeline in January.

“I think this is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the hundreds of homeless people who are living there today,” Gloria said. “It gives us a better shot at making sure those hundreds of people are not returned to our streets, but instead are connected to permanent housing sources.”

The city and county, the San Diego Housing Commission, Regional Task Force on the Homeless and the San Diego Convention Center Corporation began “Operation Shelter to Home” on April 1 to shelter and house hundreds of individuals experiencing homelessness. On Friday, the agencies collaborating on the effort reached an agreement to extend operations of the emergency shelter.

“The convention center operation is designed to protect not only the public health of its residents, but make connections into sustainable treatment programs,” said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, co-chair of the county’s COVID-19 subcommittee. “Our county medical and behavioral health staff have been on-site since April and will continue to offer support to protect this community.”

The shelter is expected to cost around $40 million to operate through Dec. 31.

“My fear is that they would be returned to the streets,” Gloria said. “I do believe that our partners would find ways to house some of these individuals, but that’s not good enough for me. I don’t think there’s any amount of homelessness that’s acceptable in our city.”

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