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health as it happens

Shelter for homeless people with addictions, mental health issues nears opening - The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — 

Aiming to help one of the most challenging homeless populations on the street, officials from the city and county of San Diego on Wednesday gave a preview of a soon-to-open shelter that will serve people with addiction and mental health issues.

“Our existing shelters are not appropriate for everyone,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said during a press conference at the new 44-bed shelter on Sports Arena Boulevard. “There is an acute need for shelter and services for unsheltered residents who struggle with substance abuse or mental illness, or both, which sadly is too often the case.”

The shelter will be run by the Alpha Project, which runs two of the cities’ large tented bridge shelters, while Family Health Centers of San Diego will provide substance use counselors, peer support, mental health clinicians and nurse practitioners for medical consultation.

Family Health Centers of San Diego also will provide specialized Community Harm Reduction Teams, also known as C-HRT, which will provide Naloxone distribution to reverse narcotic overdoses, fentanyl testing and sterile syringe access for people living on the street.

No clients were in the facility Wednesday. Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy said they would be coming in later in the week.

“This step alone will not end homelessness in San Diego, but we are doing everything we possibly can to meet the need of our community,” said San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher at the press conference.

The county has committed $1.4 million annually for five years for the shelter, and the city invested $1.7 million this year and will invest about $2.1 million annually to operate the shelter, which is at a former Pier One Imports about a half-mile east of the Pechanga Arena.

Fletcher, Gloria and McElroy acknowledged that residents and businesses are concerned about the impact homelessness has in their community, and they want the city and government to do more.

McElroy also acknowledged that there often is opposition to new shelters, but said this one already has had a positive impact on the neighborhood because the old building was blighted and had been used by homeless people to use drugs.

“This was a shooting gallery,” he said, describing how crews cleared away about 200 syringes that were found on the property.

Cathy Kenton, chair of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, said she is hopeful, but not confident the new shelter will have a positive impact on the neighborhood.

“I think that remains to be seen,” she said. “I would hope that that is true, but it doesn’t help with our immediate problems.”

Kenton said the city and county have been using the Midway District as a “dumping ground” for programs, such as two hotels in the area that are being used to temporarily house immigrants seeking asylum.

“I would hope that it would be part of the solution, but I don’t see how it’s going to make a huge impact,” she said, noting that there are large homeless encampments in the area.

Just west of the new facility, a large encampment surrounds a closed San Diego Rescue Mission thrift store just across the street from the entrance to the Pechanga Arena. A stretch of Sports Arena Boulevard east of Rosecrans Street is lined with about 70 tents and other makeshift structures set up by homeless people.

Gloria said the city is looking for additional locations for safe havens, another new program that will provide longer term care as a next step for people who will be helped at the shelter.

McElroy said he knows there still are hundreds of people living in poor conditions on the street, and he sees the new shelter as a way for many to have a new, better life.

“It’s cold out there,” he said. “It was raining yesterday. There are folks out there who have no idea their lives are going to change because of this facility.”