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SAN DIEGO — About 500 unaccompanied migrant children, girls between the ages of 13 and 17, were taking shelter at the San Diego Convention Center Sunday in an effort by federal, county and city officials to help the humanitarian crisis at the southwest U.S. border by providing temporary housing.

The first group of children arrived Saturday evening after flying on three charter flights from Texas and were taken by multiple buses to the temporary shelter at the convention center. The planes landed at the San Diego Airport between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Up to 250 more girls were expected to arrive in San Diego on Monday, Mayor Todd Gloria said.

The girls were tested for COVID-19 before arriving in San Diego and will be tested every three days while staying at the convention center, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The creation of such emergency intake sites is designed to shift the minors — most of whom are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — more quickly out of U.S. Border Patrol custody while helping to alleviate overcrowding at border holding facilities.

On March 22, city and county officials announced that they would make the convention center available for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use as a temporary shelter for minors up to age 17.

Gloria and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher issued the following statement:

“When HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra requested our help to house some of the unaccompanied minors at the border, we knew it was the right thing to do. Over the weekend, we agreed to open our convention center to the federal government for use as a temporary shelter. The city and county will support this federally funded effort by providing vital services to these vulnerable children who came to our country seeking safety.”

The site will be used for about 90 days, with the average stay for each child averaging 30-35 days, city officials said. The children will be provided with food, medical care, a place to sleep and showers.

A recreation area will also be used on the exterior of the facility. The children will not be permitted to leave the facility until they are reunified with family members in the United States or connected with other sponsors.

The Health and Human Services Refugee Resettlement Program will fund the temporary shelter, and additional partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Center for Disease Control and the convention center.

According to Rip Rippetoe, convention center president and CEO, the venue will serve in this capacity until July, with detailed plans in place to ensure a smooth transition to event activity in August.

SBCS, formerly South Bay Community Services, is coordinating education, enrichment, family reunification and religious services for the children at the convention center. SBCS said anyone who would like to support the efforts through donations or volunteering should visit their website.

SBCS partners include:

  • Casa Familiar
  • Logan Heights Community Development Corporation
  • MAAC
  • New Alternatives
  • Promises2Kids
  • San Diego County Office of Education
  • San Diego Youth Services
  • The Catholic Diocese
  • The Children’s Initiative
  • The Episcopal Diocese
  • University of San Diego
  • YMCA of San Diego County

The San Diego County Office of Education said it is collecting contact information for certified teachers interested in supporting its programming for the girls, according to the Union-Tribune.

The effort comes as the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, Regional Task Force on the Homeless and San Diego Housing Commission has wound down Operation Shelter to Home, a program hosted at the convention center to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.

Gloria announced March 5 that residents of the convention center would be relocated to the city’s shelters, where they continue to receive social services. The final homeless San Diegans staying at the shelter were moved to new housing last week.