City approves one-year extension for 3 homeless bridge shelters

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council, acting as the San Diego Housing Authority, voted 6-3 Tuesday to approve a 12-month extension with three local homeless advocacy organizations to operate the city’s three homeless bridge shelters.

The agreements will provide funding to the Alpha Project for the Homeless, Veterans Village of San Diego and Father Joe’s Villages to continue operating the shelters through June 30, 2020. The city approved $5,317,212 for the Alpha Project, $3,520,644 for Veterans Village and $2,472,492 for Father Joe’s.

The three shelters offer various services such as housing assistance as well as a place for homeless residents to sleep in safety. The shelters have the capacity to serve nearly 700 residents every day, and more than 300 formerly homeless residents have moved into long-term housing via the bridge shelters.

“(Housing) is part of the solution but it takes time to produce,” said Father Joe’s Chief Revenue Officer Bill Bolstad. “And in the meantime, we have thousands of people on our streets on any given night. … What they need is a place to go, a place that’s safe, a place that’s clean, a place for them to access the resources they need to help them get off the streets.”

The Housing Authority used one-time funding from the San Diego Housing Commission’s property reserves and federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Work program for the extensions. However, city officials have yet to decide where future funding for the shelters will come from.

The city opened the shelters in 2017 in response to a hepatitis A outbreak that killed 20 residents, many of them homeless, but did not establish the facilities with permanent funding. The Housing Authority has voted multiple times to extend operations of the shelters, most recently last September.

Andrea Tevlin, the city’s independent budget analyst, has argued the current funding plan of authorizing one-time funds is unsustainable and the city will eventually run out of money, be it from federal sources or the housing commission’s property reserves. Council members said identifying a permanent funding source should be part of the city’s homelessness plan going forward.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno also proposed to keep one of the bridge shelters at its current site at Golden Hall, located adjacent to the City Administration Building, rather than move it to a site at the corner of 17th Street and Imperial Avenue to ensure the safety of the women and children at the shelter.

“We are talking about families with children and I think about that constantly,” said Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, who seconded Moreno’s motion. “So the more humanity we can give to the solution, I think the location of Golden Hall is that; that’s why I believe this is the right thing to do.”

Several council members suggested expanding to four bridge shelters and utilizing both sites rather than choosing between the two, but the council balked at that idea due to the existing funding challenges for the three current shelters. As a result, council members Chris Ward, Mark Kersey and Chris Cate voted against the extensions.

“I like having the shelter at Golden Hall because I like walking by it every day,” Kersey said, arguing that the city needs as many bridge shelters as possible. “We see the problem every day downtown, obviously, we see the folks on the sidewalk. I like having the shelter right here in City Hall so that we’re reminded of the work that needs to be done every day when we come to the office.”

With the Golden Hall shelter staying in place, the city is now tasked with deciding how to use the 17th and Imperial site, which the city has already leased and started construction on. City officials intend to establish it as a homeless shelter of some kind but when that may happen remains unclear after the Housing Authority’s vote.

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