A group of local leaders dedicated to homeless services, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, urged the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Monday to allocate $5.4 million of next year's budget to a project that would convert motels into permanent housing for people currently living at the convention center.
As the novel coronavirus took hold of San Diego County in mid-March, forcing residents to shelter at home in order to prevent the disease's spread, local leaders needed to figure out how to get shelter for hundreds of homeless San Diegans while maintaining their social distance. The unutilized San Diego Convention Center was transformed into a temporary shelter, but the goal was to be able to find permanent housing for the individuals in the shelter.
While 400 people have been placed in permanent housing as a result of "Operation Shelter to Home," Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says the next phase of the program focuses on creating homes for hundreds more.
The San Diego Housing Commission, in partnership with the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless and other local leaders, announced they are seeking to convert about 400 motel units into permanent housing for unsheltered individuals.
"Tomorrow the Board of Supervisors will have a choice when it comes before the budget to help hundreds of San Diegans receive the mental health and substance abuse treatment they need in the rooms that are in the process of being acquired," Fletcher said.
The units are expected to be funded by California's newly launched "Project Homekey" initiative, which has made available $600 million in grants for the purchase and rehabilitation of hotels for permanent housing; an application has already been submitted, the San Diego Housing Commission said.
But the homeless advocacy groups say, in order to successfully rehabilitate homeless individuals, they need $5.4 million from the county to ensure those converted housing units can be accompanied by behavioral health services and substance abuse treatment programs.
"5.4 million dollars of behavioral health and care coordination services gives individuals the security and peace of mind that a new home is a permanent home," said Council Member Chris Ward, who serves as the chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the San Diego Housing Commission began looking for available units for purchase in March. Each had full kitchens to make converting them into permanent housing units easier. The properties are currently being vetted, and projects will be considered by the San Diego City Council in the fall.
"There’s never been this much of an opportunity and there's never been this much of a need. And if done right, it can be a real gamechanger,” Faulconer said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new $600 million fund to help the homeless under "Project Homekey" in mid-July. The grant would give municipalities the opportunity to acquire and rebuild vacant hotel, motel or apartment units to convert into long-term housing for those experiencing homelessness.
Most of the $600 million for Project Homekey will, in part, be provided to cities and counties by California’s direct allocation of the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds, with a $50 million allocation coming from California’s general fund. Any funds must be spent by Dec. 30.
Prior to "Project Homekey," the state was securing hotel and motel rooms as a way to keep at-risk homeless sheltered and isolated to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In late June, Newsom said that the "Project Roomkey" initiative had housed more than 14,000 people in the three months since its launch, including people San Diego.