New bridge homeless shelter opens in East Village

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SAN DIEGO – By the end of the week, 128 people will be taken off the streets of San Diego and given a warm bed to sleep in.

It’s all part of a transitional housing program that has government officials from over 60 cities flying to San Diego to take a closer look.

“I never thought I’d be homeless,” said Balynda Marshall, a woman who is using the program. “You’re use to being up on top, doing things, going places, and then all of a sudden, that changes.”

Marshall was married to a military man. The two traveled the world before they separated. Shortly thereafter, Marshall lost her job. During a six-month period from January to July, she lived on the streets sleeping on park benches and parked cars.

“It’s hard being homeless,” she said with tears rolling down her eyes. People look at you differently. You look at yourself differently.”

The shelter Marshall now lives is called a bridge shelter, one of four in San Diego. Each one houses a different demographic of people. The newest location in East Village aims to shelter young people ages 18-24. All four locations provide a warm bed, meals, and a shower, but they also help people get substance abuse counseling and job training. Another part of the program offers residents the opportunity to earn $13 an hour cleaning up the community.

“Fifty-percent of work they do out there is mentoring the people they’ve been camping with for 20 years,” said Bob McElroy, president of Alpha Projects, the contractor who won the bid to build and operate the shelter. “We have many people out here that have never trusted a shelter facility before, but they come into our facility because we are run by the inmates, people who understand what it means to be disenfranchised, and lonely.”

The program coordinates with other services geared toward getting people out of the shelter within four months and into affordable housing and helping them to pay rent for the first year.

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