In January, Mayor Kevin Faulconer promised to quickly add hundreds of shelter beds to aid San Diego’s growing homeless population. After months of stagnation, his staff settled on three sites that had been on city officials’ radar all along.

Faulconer on Wednesday announced the city will pitch temporary tents at Barrio Logan and Midway sites that for years housed winter homeless tents, and at a third East Village parking lot that city officials have inquired about since at least the beginning of the year.

The difference maker: A deadly hepatitis A outbreak that’s left 16 dead, infected more than 400 people and disproportionately battered those living on the streets.

As street homelessness grew this year, Faulconer pledged quick action but then said consensus would be necessary. Consensus didn’t materialize, and the process stalled. Now, in the midst of the outbreak, Faulconer has decided to move forward.

“I wish you could snap your fingers and make things happen overnight,” Faulconer said in June. “It’s important to do it the right way. It’s important to get buy-in.”

By that time, city officials had analyzed countless buildings and properties, ruling many of them out in the process.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Since then, the county’s declared a public health emergency and the region’s received a hail of national scrutiny over the outbreak and the city and county’s months-long failure to address it.

At a Wednesday press conference, flanked by politicians and community leaders, Faulconer struck a different tone.

“One of the reasons we’ve reached a critical mass on homelessness is because government entities have been looking for answers that’ll make everyone happy,” said Faulconer.

“The truth is that nothing is easy when it comes to reducing homelessness and frankly, we can’t spend any more time worrying about whether this group or that group will be offended,” Faulconer said. “Lives are on the line. We need to take action.”

He’s now hoping at least one or two of the shelters, which are each expected to temporarily house at least 100 people, will open by the end of the year. Faulconer said the city will rely on a $1.5 million donation from a group led by Padres managing partner Peter Seidler and restaurateur Dan Shea to buy the tents. The city plans to contract with homeless-serving nonprofits Alpha Project, Father Joe’s Villages and Veterans Village of San Diego to operate them. Faulconer’s already talking about more tents elsewhere in the city too.

Faulconer’s Wednesday announcement comes nearly two months after Seidler and Shea publicly committed to supply at least two large industrial tents – and eight months since Faulconer’s January pledge to quickly add hundreds of shelter beds.

The city could have moved forward sooner.

Alpha Project operated a winter tent at the 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan for nearly a decade and Veterans Village ran another for homeless veterans on Sports Arena Boulevard in Midway for years too.

The sites were familiar to city officials leading the search for new shelter locations. One was even identified as a candidate for a shelter site months ago.

Emails obtained by Voice of San Diego through a public records request show city officials had looked closely at the parking lot at 14th Street and Commercial Avenue at the beginning of the year.

The parking lot, often called the Penske site, is on the nonprofit’s St. Vincent de Paul campus in East Village.

In a January email, Stacie Spector, then the mayor’s point person on homelessness, told Assistant Chief Operating Officer Stacey LoMedico that the site “might be back on deck as an (emergency) site option.”

A month later, Spector advised LoMedico that she wanted to organize an “ASAP meeting” with Father Joe’s Villages, city officials and the company that produces industrial tents to “assess viability and timeline and configuration of beds.”

By the end of March, Father Joe’s had announced another plan for the site: a 16-story affordable housing development with a homeless day center, expanded medical clinic and other amenities.

Yet on Wednesday, Father Joe’s publicly committed to operate a tent on the site until September 2018.

Bill Bolstad, Father Joe’s chief development officer, said the hepatitis A outbreak and surging homeless population convinced the nonprofit it could offer up the space after all.

“The fact of the matter is, the conditions on the street mean we have to do something,” Bolstad said.

Jonathan Herrera, the mayor’s senior adviser on homelessness coordination, said the recent public outcry amid the hepatitis A outbreak inspired a different approach to all the sites.

“I will be the first to say that each of these sites had an array of issues that we had to overcome and I think the recent attention on this issue, and most definitely the urgency that we’ve gotten from our stakeholders to come up with a solution, I think has provided us the flexibility we need to overcome these hurdles,” Herrera said.

In other words, city officials had looked at many sites and repeatedly pointed to reasons they couldn’t work.

Now, they’ve decided sites they either identified months ago or that previously housed shelters are acceptable after all.

“If you waited to find a site that made everybody happy, no action would be taken,” Faulconer said after the press conference. “It’s time for action.”

    This article relates to: Government, Homelessness, Kevin Faulconer, Must Reads

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    11 comments
    Jay Byrd
    Jay Byrd

    I suggest buses to Mexico where they will find a nicer, warmer climate.  These people are using up a lot of taxpayer $$s that could be spent on infrastructure.  Making them more comfortable here has only increased their numbers and our problem.  OR, let 6,000 of the bleeding hearts spouting off here take them to their homes. It is always nicer to come up with a plan that does not cost you personally.  Must have been  "Bernie" supporters. 

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Most of the homeless already have shelters. If I was homeless, in most weather I would prefer to stay in my own tent.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    In 2013 the San Diego Sheriff's office and County's Chief Administrative Officer rejected a San Diego County Grand Jury report, recommending new vaccination standards for inmates in County care to come into compliance with federal guidelines, noting "When compared with the CDC recommendations and the Federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines, DSB fails to provide many of these screenings and immunizations." 


    The report stated: "The Grand Jury recognizes that there are many obstacles to immunizing adult inmates, not the least of which is cost. The Grand Jury recommends that DSB establish a goal and plan the steps necessary to provide the CDC recommended screenings and immunizations for all inmates. The first step should be to immunize all pregnant women and all women of childbearing age by January 2014. DSB should plan additional steps to expand this program year by year until they have achieved a 90% level of screening and immunization for all adult inmates. 

    ***These steps will prevent the development of some tragic epidemic, born in our detention facilities, that creates widespread illness and death in our community.*** 

    The full report is here: http://bit.ly/SDGrandJuryVaccinate2013 


    The response is here:  http://bit.ly/GrandJuryResponse2013

    In 2017, as more homeless San Diegans are arrested and jailed, a deadly HepatitisA epidemic is sweeping through San Diego. The local mortality rate is 4%- twice the national average of 2% acc. to CDC.org.

    For those investigating the source of this rapid and unprecedented deadly outbreak: look at the jails and the refusal of the Sheriff & County CAO to implement these recommendations in 2013.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Monica B's  R2D2  Recharged Ranch & Drop-Off Depot at our public-owned and empty @Chargers Park at 4020 Murphy Canyon Road.   Perfect and Free until Soccer City Vote in November 2018. No plans for next 14 Months with full staffing.


    http://tinyurl.com/20170724b 


    FY-2018 Budget for the Chargers Park Campus included full staffing by 15 City Employees with no tenants.


    Safe Parking, room for Sprung Tent, Restrooms, Showers, Laundry, Decontamination,  Dining, Fenced Areas, Offices for Police HOT, Non-Profits and Faith Communities, near Regional Taskforce on the Homeless 4699 Murphy Canyon Road.  


    http://tinyurl.com/20170724b



    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Consider a tale of 2 counties: San Diego & Los Angeles. Both have massive homelessness challenges- but only 1 has a massive HepA outbreak. In fact- LA County has had ZERO cases of HepA in their homeless population for the past two years, and recent ones appear to be linked to exposures in San Diego County.

    Why the difference?


    Los Angeles County managed a much smaller hepatitis outbreak in their homeless population in 2005, and learned from that experience. A few years later, they developed a comprehensive hepatitis prevention plan that included vaccinations for jail inmates. See: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/cdcp/docs/HepatitisPreventionPlan2010-2015.pdf


    In contrast: in the past year, citations/arrests of homeless people in San Diego have increased. It's likely the #HepatitisA outbreak was exacerbated in jails where many homeless and mentally ill people serve time.


    Then add weekly "sweeps" + overcrowding of homeless people into places w/inadequate bathrooms (Neil Good Center) which also increases risks & rate of transmission.


    Finally: Refusing to open &/or removing public restrooms for use by at-risk people in East Village also increased risk/rate of transmission.


    All of these factors- criminalization, over crowding, sweeps- created a "perfect storm" for San Diego's HepatitisA epidemic to grow rapidly and become deadly.


    Setting up "Big tents" in parking lots won't solve this problem. Without additional prevention & medical care- they may actually make things worse.


    There may be many things Los Angeles has done that San Diego does not care to emulate- but preventing a deadly epidemic is not one of them.

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    So the "plan" is for one or two shelters to house 100 or more each by the end of the year when there were an estimated more than 9000 homeless in January with more than 5500 of those unsheltered. 

    This "plan" doesn't even begin to address the enormity of the problem or the urgency of it.  This mayor continues to be totally useless.  He needs to resign and let someone do the job that's actually interested in it and capable of doing it.  

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    It's worth remembering that the Mayor, without any real rationale, appointed Stacie Spector to spearhead this issue despite any prior experience in dealing with homeless issues. Her background was primarily PR. She was paid $175k per year and served seven months. The Mayor's emphasis is on public relations, not action. He is now talking tough because he has been pushed into a corner by a health emergency created by his own inaction; and because others in the community have forced him to "lead.". 

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Once again Barrio Logan gets screwed by our frat boy mayor. The siting of the emergency shelter here for almost a decade has inundated my community with human waste on our sidewalks, alleys and in Chicano Park wear the stench of urine is unbearable next to the murals on the west side of National Ave. Sidewalks may be getting power washed but not here. This community, with already a myriad of problems imposed by the city and port, has enough problems to deal with without adding more people living out in the open here. When the new tent is full where will those turned away go? Right here. But instead of those that have already been using our community as "shelter" there will be more.

    Nobody from Barrio Logan was asked. Our planning group wasn't asked. Our MAD wasn't asked. Business and community leaders weren't asked. Even our councilman wasn't told of this! Once again the neglect of and lack of respect for my community continues by this mayor!

    Rick Smith
    Rick Smith subscriber

    How about "Chargers Park" as a site?  Transportation might be an issues, but the former tenant there has moved to Carson.


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    John Porter
    John Porter subscriber

    Ah, Mayor Doolittle is at it again.  A perfect republican candidate for governor.  I nominate him for the Grey Davis award.