‘Maybe We Should’ve Waited’ - Voice of San Diego

Community UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

‘Maybe We Should’ve Waited’

A former outreach worker for Connections Housing said she still worries about the building’s residents, and wonders whether the project opened its doors too soon.

The person who visited certain trees and crawled under overpasses in the rain for months to recruit homeless people to move into Connections Housing, the city’s new permanent homeless center, said she thinks the project’s hiccups should’ve been dealt with before people moved in.

The project’s developer, PATH, submitted its proposal to build a one-stop service center and affordable housing to the city in 2009.

That means the agency has had a few years to shore up the details, said Merideth Spriggs. Spriggs worked for PATH from September 2012 to April 2013, leading efforts to find and coax hundreds of vulnerable street-dwellers to come inside.

“It should’ve been ready,” she said. “And if it wasn’t, we shouldn’t have opened the doors.”

Spriggs said she made repeat trips over several months to the would-be residents’ usual spots — “encouraging them, encouraging them, encouraging them” — to trust her and move indoors. She described the bevy of services that they’d find inside to help break the cycle of their homelessness.

But the project’s service depot, a central piece of PATH’s proposal for the project, isn’t yet fulfilling the promise that 35 agencies would be there. Some groups and agencies have yet to move onsite. (As of earlier this month, at least 15 agencies per week provide services in the depot, PATH said.) Spriggs said she understood delays during the center’s first few weeks, when just a handful of residents were moving in, but eventually, someone should’ve made sure “we don’t have any dark lights in the depot.”

Though Spriggs said she has heard more recently from clients that the project has “gotten better,” she said moving clients into a project that wasn’t ready from the start is not fair. She said she heard from many residents before they moved in that they’d been betrayed many times before by services and agencies making promises they didn’t keep.

“Maybe we should’ve waited until we were really ready,” she said.

When residents moved inside Connections, she was the person they knew. It was difficult to hear their complaints, she said.

“They felt a little betrayed by me,” she said.

One of the only ways to learn how the project is going is through PATH’s monthly reports to the Housing Commission, the agency overseeing the project for the city. Last week, PATH filed a new report, showing that 239 individuals in the interim program at Connections had received a case plan and “access to supportive services,” including counseling, employment assistance and health care between January and April.

But the agency still has a ways to go to meet its outcome goals for residents. In those four months, six residents — 3 percent of the total clients — who didn’t have an income before moving into Connections gained one. PATH’s goal is 30 percent, which would be closer to 70 residents.

Three other residents increased their income and four got jobs — also well below PATH’s goals.

Ninety residents left the program. Thirty-six of them, or about 40 percent, went to permanent housing or another long-term program. PATH’s goal is 60 percent.

The report does not state where the other 54 residents went after Connections. PATH San Diego leaders did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Spriggs said she fears the people in the interim beds will be “caught in the revolving door” when PATH runs out of vouchers to place them in permanent housing. Some still call her cell phone now, even though Spriggs moved to Las Vegas and is no longer working for PATH.

Spriggs said she told her former bosses at PATH about her concerns before she moved. She said she believes in the project, and in PATH.

“It can be better,” she said. “The city’s put all this money in it. I don’t want it to fail. We owe that to the clients.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Merideth Spriggs.

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