Historically, the city's winter homeless shelter has been a safe haven for up to 200 rule-abiding men and women. This year, the mayor's efforts to find a site for it are meeting with stiff opposition on the City Council
Putting it downtown has been the standard default decision of the City Council, because downtown is frequented by just over half the city's documented homeless population of 1,907, and it's where so many of their services are located.
"The [shelter] tent has been placed in the same six-block radius year after year," said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, whose 2nd District encompasses downtown. "And the fact is that there are other parts of the city that could use those services."
After failing to receive suggestions for alternative sites from Faulconer's council colleagues, Mayor Jerry Sanders distributed a list of 27 possibilities citywide -- many of them immediately ruled "non-starters" for various logistical reasons.
For example, one in the 3rd District, across Interstate 5 from the northern edge of downtown in Balboa Park -- would seem to fit the shelter's site requirements. It's a parking lot near the city's Park & Recreation Dept. headquarters, but as parkland, it's not available for residential use under the City Charter.
"Our city attorney has issued an opinion that is very clear that that site is not viable," sajd 3rd District Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district is frequented by nearly one-quarter of the city's homeless.
"We established that at our last council hearing -- that's why it was eliminated [from consideration] at that time," Gloria added. "I'm disappointed that it continues to be on the [mayor's] list.... We have a number of viable sites that are available in downtown, and that's where I believe [the shelter] should go."
Alpha Project President Bob McElroy, the city's contractor for the winter shelter, sides with Gloria.
"It's got to be downtown -- that's where the people are," McElroy said in an interview Thursday. "They can't go anywhere else. Their services are there.... We've talked to people, asked, 'If you had it somewhere else, would you be able to bus in, van in?' 'No.' It's not going to happen. So you can put a tent anywhere you want outside of downtown, and there won't be any people in it."
Faulconer disagrees, insisting that a tent for 200 could easily be filled elsewhere.
"The easy thing to do is just keep doing the same thing over and over," Faulconer said. "But I think it's unfortunate that other parts of the city -- and some of my colleagues -- won't even consider a temporary facility."
The issue comes before the council on Tuesday.
This year, the shelter's operation will be underwritten by more than $700,000 in grants from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development and the San Diego Housing Commission.