Homeless San Diegans leave convention center with migrant shelter in the works

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SAN DIEGO — City and county leaders are detailing the next steps in plans to transition the San Diego Convention Center to a temporary shelter for migrant children.

The County of San Diego and City of San Diego announced plans Monday to work with the federal government to turn the convention center into a temporary shelter for unaccompanied migrant children.

Plans were already in the works to move up to 500 homeless San Diegans from the center to the upper and lower levels of Golden Hall, which will be operated by Father Joe’s Villages, and to two shelters operated by Alpha Project. Mayor Todd Gloria announced March 5 that residents would be relocated to the city’s reconfigured shelters, where they will continue to receive shelter and services.

“A lot of folks have asked, ‘Well, where are these individuals going to go?’ I made a commitment that we would not return these folks to Harbor Drive and wish them well,” Gloria said. “Instead, we’d find them another opportunity to be housed sustainably and suitably, and that we are making good on.”

The mayor hopes to carry forward with lessons they learned from housing the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The momentum has to continue,” Deacon Jim Vargas of Father Joe’s Village said. “The issue is still there. It’s still large. We need to get people off the streets and into self sufficiency. And, at the end, self sufficiency means housing.”

As early as this week, the convention center will transition to a temporary shelter operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to house migrant children seeking asylum. 

“In some ways, [we’re] disheartened to see some of the conditions these children are in. These children who have a legal claim to be here, who have a legal right to be here, who have claimed asylum, are in conditions and situations in Customs and Border Protection detention facilities that simply should be unacceptable to all of us,” San Diego Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said. 

County and city officials say they expect to house migrant children for up to three months with the convention center estimated to start operating as it did before the pandemic on July 1. 

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