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Homelessness Strategies and Solutions

Convention Center Opens as Temporary Regional Homeless Shelter Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Operation “Shelter to Home” Aims to Prevent Spread of Virus, Quickly Navigate Individuals to Permanent Housing

Wednesday, April 1, 2020 - NEWS RELEASE

SAN DIEGO – In an exceptional move to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among San Diego’s homeless population, today the San Diego Convention Center opened its doors as a temporary shelter for homeless individuals, starting with groups from the City’s bridge shelters.

Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and City Councilmember Chris Ward were joined by Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH) CEO Tamera Kohler and San Diego Convention Center President and CEO Rip Rippetoe to discuss how the convention center will be used to create more shelter space, allow more room between individuals per guidelines from public health officials, and centralize limited shelter staff.

Announced last Monday, the move is part of a new, system-wide, coordinated plan to further help sheltered and unsheltered individuals remain healthy during the global pandemic. Dubbed “Operation Shelter to Home,” the temporary repurposing of the convention center as a shelter will support a broader regional approach to address homelessness during this state of emergency.

Any individual exhibiting symptoms, who is at greater risk of exposure, or part of a vulnerable population will continue to be placed in various County-funded hotel and motel rooms for temporary lodging in accordance with guidance from County of San Diego public health officials.

A Focus on Housing

Staff at the convention center will be focused on finding housing for individuals as well as sheltering them. The Operation Shelter to Home Incident Command team has identified a number of exit strategies to quickly transition people into permanent housing solutions – ultimately reducing the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Methods being explored include: utilizing regulatory waivers to create more room sharing opportunities; prioritizing people with benefits such as social security income and disability income; using flexible spending pool funds and growing the “master leasing” program to transition households with rental assistance; and enhancing the already-successful Family Reunification Program to reunite individuals with family and friends.

Phased Move-In

Individuals will be moved into the convention center in a phased approach to ensure needs and resources are scaled appropriately. The first people to be relocated into the building will be from the two bridge shelters operated by the Alpha Project, with individuals from other shelters following in groups. Once physical distancing requirements have been met for current shelter residents, capacity will be assessed to intake unsheltered San Diegans.

On-Site Services

The convention center will offer services similar to other shelters, including 24-hour security, meals, showers, bathrooms, laundry services, case managers and housing navigation. The County of San Diego will provide mental and behavioral health services, healthcare and daily health screenings. The convention center has installed large projectors and Wi-Fi access for clients to have entertainment and full connectivity for work, school or other needs.

What People Are Saying

“We have a chance to tackle the coronavirus crisis and the homelessness crisis at the same time. If I can’t fill our convention center with tourists, then I’m going to make sure it’s filled with hope, with progress, and with San Diegans who can put it to good use. The convention center is a welcoming beacon for people from around the world, and during this pandemic, it will be a beacon of hope for our community.” – Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer

“To best prepare for COVID-19, we need to all work together as a region. San Diego County is proud to provide emergency funding as well as mental and behavioral health services, healthcare and daily health screenings to help reduce the risk of this virus devastating our homeless community. Quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.” – County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher

“San Diego’s convention center is an economic driver throughout the region, but today serves another critical purpose. It is paramount that we continue to utilize all available resources to protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations by providing safe spaces for those in need of shelter. From our hospital workers to our frontline homeless-provider staff, and everyone that is simply staying indoors, San Diego is responding to this public health crisis and we won’t stop until all San Diegans are safe.” – Councilmember & Regional Task Force on the Homeless Chair Chris Ward

“Our region is taking dramatic steps to protect our homeless population from COVID-19. We’re creating an entirely new ecosystem to face this challenge together. We have worked quickly and deliberately to prevent the spread of this disease, help individuals currently in our homeless system throughout the region and bring more people into our system with the goal of getting them onto permanent housing options.” – Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler

“Here at the San Diego Convention Center, I often remark that our staff and partners build a small city each week for the most important moment in an organization’s year. In this case, we worked with our City, County and community partners to transform approximately 175,000 square feet of space in our exhibit halls for San Diego’s critical moment. And we’ll continue to add space inside the halls, as needed. When the time is right, our team will return to hosting conventions and trade shows. For now, we are taking everything we know and everything we’ve learned to pivot into a shelter operation — an urgent, large-scale effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our unsheltered neighbors.” – San Diego Convention Center President & CEO Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe

“We are very thankful for the attention and planning that has gone into this move led by the Mayor and Supervisor Fletcher. We are extremely grateful to our Alpha Project staff in which 100 percent of them have continued to show up to work every single day with a positive attitude and dedication to making sure our residents are taken care of.  We are also very appreciative of the resilience and understanding our residents have and their help in moving them into their temporary new home.” – Alpha Project President and CEO Bob McElroy

“This initiative is a model for the nation of regional collaboration and innovation to address homelessness amid the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents. With the City, the County, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the San Diego Housing Commission and service provider partners working together, this new shelter paradigm will make a difference in our community at this difficult time.” – San Diego Housing Commission President & CEO Richard C. Gentry

For information regarding COVID-19 cases and directives from County of San Diego public health officials, please visit Text “COSD COVID19” to 468-311 for text alert updates.