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Mayor Gloria Announces Extension of Convention Center Shelter Operations

Regional Coalition Affirms Commitment to Protect and House San Diegans Experiencing Homelessness

Friday, December 18, 2020 - NEWS RELEASE

SAN DIEGO – In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recent surge in cases locally that mirrors nationwide trends, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria today announced, alongside regional agencies, the extension of shelter operations at the San Diego Convention Center to support hundreds of San Diegans experiencing homelessness and help connect them to permanent or longer-term housing.

“I am committed to protecting our homeless neighbors from COVID-19 while keeping a focus on connecting them to long-term housing,” Mayor Gloria said. “A temporary extension for this shelter will allow us to serve the greatest number of people in need with daily health screenings and other COVID protections.”

The City of San Diego, County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC), Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), and the San Diego Convention Center Corporation came together in April to shelter and protect hundreds of San Diegans experiencing homelessness in the Convention Center. Today, the agencies collaborating on the effort have reached an agreement to extend operations of the emergency shelter, with the threat of the virus still prevalent.

“The Convention Center operation is designed to protect not only the public health of its residents, but make connections into sustainable treatment programs,” said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Co-Chair of the County’s COVID-19 Subcommittee. “Our County medical and behavioral health staff have been on-site since April and will continue to offer support to protect this community.”

Mayor Gloria has directed City staff to provide funding to support operations through January using dollars previously slated for shelter operations in November and December that remain unspent due to cost-saving measures and other factors, as well as to use available state grant funding specifically for homelessness-related programs and services.

Mayor Gloria is proposing that the City authorize additional funding to allow for operations as late as the end of March 2021, with plans to continue exiting individuals as quickly as possible to permanent housing or navigate them safely into shelter at another location by that time. The Mayor intends to seek Council approval of a financial plan and revised timeline in January.

“An extension of Operation Shelter to Home using a significant portion coming from previously allocated but unspent shelter operation funds is not only the right thing to do, but will also make all San Diegans safer during this uptick in COVID-19 cases, said City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, Chair of the Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee. “San Diego is in the midst of a public health emergency and we must do everything in our power to protect the community and prevent the spread of this terrible disease.”

“What started as an emergency response to the pandemic quickly became a model for multi-jurisdictional cooperation and collaboration,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the RTFH. “That effort has resulted in the ability to quickly respond when people have become ill. At the same time, it has provided homeless San Diegans a place where they are cared for, and have access to showers, beds, meals and healthcare, and assistance with finding a permanent home. Extending this operation, while continuing to adhere to all public health protocols is the right thing to do.”

In December, Operation Shelter to Home experienced the same uptick in cases as the broader San Diego community and due to all of the planning and protocols in place, individuals who tested positive were immediately notified and moved to an off-site hotel managed by the County of San Diego for public health use. Since April, more than 11,200 COVID-19 tests have been administered on regular basis to shelter residents and staff.

This week’s round of testing for early COVID-19 detection showed a 5-percent positivity rate, compared with the region-wide 14-day average rate of 7.8 percent. Test results received today revealed no new positive cases.

Extension of Operation Shelter to Home will ensure accommodations for single adults experiencing homelessness while the region is seeing an uptick in cases across the community, with many preventive measures and detection protocols in place. It will allow residents to continue to shelter in a safe, sanitary environment until public health officials can provide clarity on the possibility of a timeline for a vaccine being made available for this population.

BACKGROUND ON OPERATION SHELTER TO HOME

Operation Shelter to Home launched on April 1 by moving individuals already in shelters into the San Diego Convention Center to allow for proper physical distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because the effects of the pandemic were creating staffing challenges at the City’s various shelters, the program centralized staff in one place to ensure personnel could be efficient even with limited numbers.

One of the core missions of Operation Shelter to Home is to find permanent housing for individuals. So far, the agencies have housed more than 870 individuals and 45 families during the pandemic with more than 200 others in the process of finding a permanent or longer-term housing solution.

The emergency shelter is a collaborative effort between the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission, Regional Task Force on the Homeless, San Diego Convention Center and homeless service providers, Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages.

Updates on the shelter are posted online at sandiego.gov/coronavirus/sheltertohome.