San Diego City Council extends shelter operation at convention center

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed extension of the Operation Shelter to Home program at the San Diego Convention Center through March.

Operation Shelter to Home launched on April 1 by moving individuals already in shelters into the convention center to allow for proper physical distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 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.

Since the program began, it has served more than 3,800 people and connected 1,186 individuals and 43 families to long-term housing. Another 217 San Diegans are “in progress” to find housing through the program. According to city documents, Operation Shelter to Home costs around $5 million each month. The three-month extension is expected to cost the city $15.1 million.

“Extending Operation Shelter to Home for a few more months allows us to protect this vulnerable population as we ramp up vaccinations around the region,” Gloria said. “In the meantime, we will continue to keep our program residents safe with daily health screenings and other COVID-prevention measures, while at the same time working to permanently end their cycle of homelessness.”

Gloria’s plan includes using funds previously allocated to shelter operations that remained unspent, as well as other funds the City Council had previously approved for homelessness programs, totaling roughly $8.3 million.

The council’s action Tuesday authorized $5.6 million in additional funding to operate the emergency shelter through the end of March. The City Council also approved a companion item for the San Diego Housing Commission to commit up to $2 million in federal “Moving to Work” funds to support existing shelter contracts from February through June.

“Ongoing shelter operations at the convention center will enable the agencies working together there to continue to connect San Diegans experiencing homelessness with permanent or longer-term housing solutions,” said Richard Gentry, housing commission president and CEO.

The city and county of San Diego, the housing commission, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and the San Diego Convention Center Corporation partnered in April to shelter and protect hundreds of San Diegans experiencing homelessness in the Convention Center. The agencies committed in December to an extension through January with the threat of the virus still looming.

The housing commission’s Housing Navigation Teams will continue to prioritize moving people at the shelter to permanent or longer-term housing as quickly as possible, with plans to safely transition those who have not yet been matched to housing or another longer-term housing option to the city’s shelters by the end of March. The shelters have been reconfigured to allow for physical distancing guidelines and other safety protocols to prevent the spread of illness.

In December, Operation Shelter to Home experienced an uptick in COVID- 19 cases similar to the broader San Diego community. Due to the protocols in place, people who tested positive were immediately notified and moved to an off- site hotel managed by the county for public health use. Since that time, the COVID-19 detection among clients has been reduced back down to a 2.3% positivity rate, compared with the region-wide 14-day average rate, which was 11.9 percent for that same time period.

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

Categories: Coronavirus, Health, Local San Diego News, Politics