Fact Check: A 'Redundant' Homeless Shelter
Statement: “A homeless shelter is inappropriate because: Rachel’s Women’s Facility is located less than two blocks away. It is well under capacity. A redundant facility is not helpful.” Determination: False.
Statement: “A homeless shelter is inappropriate because: Rachel’s Women’s Facility is located less than two blocks away. It is well under capacity. A redundant facility is not helpful,” East Village Residents Group, as part of a letter sent to Mayor Bob Filner May 22.
Analysis: The city’s new Main Library is set to open Sept. 28, but what will become of the old Central Library on E Street is still unknown.
That doesn’t mean that there’s been a shortage of suggestions.
Laura Garrett, chair of the Downtown Community Planning Council, said that ideas from neighborhood groups have included everything from a gallery space to a food truck-supported dining hall.
Most recently, Garrett says that community groups have given more thought to what they would not like to see the space used for, namely, a homeless shelter. Some groups believe the East Village area is over-saturated with social service agencies.
On May 22, the East Village Residents Group sent this letter to Filner. In it, the group urges Filner not to use the Old Central Library site as a homeless shelter, one of the ideas that has been circulating for years.
Along with the letter, the group sent Filner a document with other proposals for the use of the space, which included a list of bullet points detailing why the homeless shelter isn’t the best option.
One of those bulleted items stood out: A claim that the Rachel’s Women’s Center is “well under capacity.” Therefore, the group argues, “A redundant facility is not helpful.”
In its proposal to the mayor, the East Village Resident’s Group writes, “A women’s homeless shelter was one of the contemplated options initially suggested. While EVRG usually supports the development of homeless facilities in East Village and elsewhere, we adamantly oppose the development of a homeless shelter on this site.”
On any given night, there are homeless people sleeping in front of the old Central Library.
We contacted Rachel’s Night Shelter for Women and requested records showing how many people stayed at the shelter over the most recent 18-month period.
Rachel’s Night Shelter provided us with spreadsheets that showed the number of women who slept overnight at the shelter between January 2012 and June 2013.
Here’s what that data showed:
The data shows that the shelter was never “well” under capacity for any consistent period of time.
Rachel’s Night Shelter has a total of 35 beds. One bed is kept vacant every night in case of an emergency.
The data reveals that the shelter averaged 32 women or more (out of 34 available beds) a night every month over an 18-month period, except April 2013, when it averaged 29 women per night).
“None of our services for homeless women are underutilized. Any additional services to homeless women will be a benefit. Frankly, we don’t have enough room,” said Sister RayMonda DuVall, executive director of Catholic Charities in San Diego, the organization that oversees Rachel’s Women’s Center and Rachel’s Night Shelter.
There are also a couple of variables not accounted for in the data.
The bed saved for emergencies affects the data, as there is usually one vacant bed per day.
Another variable: While it appears that there are always at least 34 beds available, it’s possible that more than 34 women applied on a given night but were turned away.
Martha Ranson, department director of Homeless Women’s Services for Catholic Charities, said that women who are already checked in can stay additional days, as long as they are “moving toward something.” Each woman is encouraged to work toward personal goals, which differ from person-to-person. One person might stay until she has found a part-time job; another might stay until she’s become stable in taking her medication, Ranson said.
These women are guaranteed re-entry but sometimes do not return, which also affects the data.
Ranson said that the facility holds a lottery drawing for available beds at 9 a.m. whenever someone leaves. But the women who win the spot sometimes don’t return, either.
The lottery drawing takes place in the morning because it gives women who don’t receive a spot more time to find another place to stay that night.
Ranson said it’s possible for 10 people to apply for a bed and not get in, and still have records show that only 33 beds were occupied that night — if the lottery winner didn’t return to claim a space.
Even in light of these variables, which are not reflected in the data, there was never a consistent period of time when the shelter was “well” under-capacity.
Joan Wojcik, president the East Village Residents Group, said, “You would have to ask Todd” about where the research indicating Rachel’s was under-capacity came from.
Wojcik said Todd Hutchins, former chair of the East Village Residents Group’s Planning Review Committee, wrote the proposal and letter and submitted both to the board. Wojcik said that the board then submitted the documents to other community groups.
Hutchins could not be reached for comment.
“Our interest was not so much the particulars there,” Wojcik said. Instead, she said that the board’s primary focus was the types of uses of the old library that would benefit all East Village residents.
We decided that the statement deserves a false rating of because:
The shelter averaged 32 women or more (out of 34 available beds) staying overnight per day every month over an 18-month period, except April 2013 (when it averaged 29 women per night). While the shelter was at times under capacity, it was never “well under capacity,” as the proposal indicated.
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