San Diego Funds 1,000-Bed “Mega Shelter,” Over Protests From All Sides

June 12, 2024

On June 11, the San Diego City Council unanimously approved a $5.82 billion annual budget and earmarked $6 million for the largest homeless shelter in city history—though the proposed site hasn’t been approved yet. Mayor Todd Gloria (D) intends to convert a 65,000-square-foot warehouse into a long-term shelter with 1,007 beds. The budget will take effect July 1.

On June 10, the City Council held a closed-door session and discussed “the price and payment terms for the City’s potential acquisition” of a warehouse on Kettner Boulevard and Vine Street. The proposal still hasn’t been discussed at a session open to the public.

If ultimately the Kettner warehouse site isn’t approved, the $6 million in Community Development Block Grants will be redirected to build subsidized housing. If the plan does move forward, it will be over loud objections from people who support affordable housing, people who oppose it and people who use it.

Local housing advocate Monica Ball told Filter that since Gloria announced the proposal in April, the prevailing issue is “how untransparent the whole thing has been.”

Ball is a co-founder of Yes In God’s Backyard, which works with faith-based organizations in San Diego to build affordable housing on land they own but don’t use. She emphasized that for most people who’ve experienced any congregate shelters in the past, the prospect of a 1,007-bed facility is not an inviting one.

“It’s too many people in one place,” Ball told Filter. “It’s difficult to run a shelter at 200 to 300 folks. At 1,000 people, there just isn’t any reason for it. There are plenty of city-owned properties around San Diego that could be used to split up that number.”

San Diego currently funds 1,890 beds in long-term shelters around the city, and a facility with 200 or 300 beds is considered large. Gloria has touted the Kittner site as a fulfillment of his pledge to add 1,000 beds to the city shelter system by 2025. But by the end of 2024, hundreds of existing beds will have been removed as two other city shelters are shuttered.

Meanwhile, encampment sweeps continue to escalate. In 2023, the city enacted an ordinance  criminalizing people stay who stay in encampments at various times or locations, so long as shelter beds are available.

“We’re trapping people in placement conditions that are intended to be temporary. We’ve got to build more housing.

Pro-police, anti-homeless community organizers have threatened to sue the city if the Kettner shelter moves forward.

“You’re talking about 1,000 homeless people, all of these people are not Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,” Kevin Arnold, president of the San Diego Neighborhood Coalition, told reporters outside City Hall. “Some of them are hard criminals and they’re going to commit crime.”

As precedent for his proposal, Gloria has cited the 1,000-person emergency shelter operated in the city convention center during the COVID-19 pandemic. But that shelter had support from FEMA, and wasn’t run by the city.

“I really appreciate Mayor Gloria trying to do the right thing,” Ball said. “This is, in my opinion, not the right direction.”

Ball, a retired realtor, described the proposed location as concerning in and of itself. After languishing on the market for years, the warehouse was abruptly chosen for a 35-year lease.

“That Kettner building has issues that are going to need to be remediated,” Ball said, referring to reports of chemical contamination amid a California Department of Toxic Substances Control investigation. “There are limitations on how much time [people] can spend in certain locations that are toxic or potentially toxic … there’s going to be limitations on how much time folks can spend there. Don’t know how healthy it really is for them to spend any time there.”

In 2023, on any given night in downtown San Diego there were more than 1,500 people staying in shelters. If the city allocated sufficient resources toward affordable housing, so that people currently occupying shelter beds could move forward, it wouldn’t need more shelter beds.

“We can’t just keep adding shelter,” Ball said. “We’re trapping people in placement conditions that are intended to be temporary. We’ve got to build more housing.”

 


 

Photograph (cropped) via City of San Diego

Alexander Lekhtman

Alexander is Filter's staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it's actually alright. He's also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter's editorial fellow.

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