After nearly a year of housing thousands of homeless residents, the city will begin to unwind operations at the shelter made at the San Diego Convention Center during the start of the pandemic.
Homeless individuals who are currently staying at the convention center shelter will be relocated to reconfigured shelters and continue to receive the same services, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria announced in a press conference Friday. The move comes as part of the mayor’s promise to wind down the shelter at the convention center by the end of March.
“Let me be clear --- no one at the convention center will be forced back onto the streets," he said. "Shelter residents have been notified of this and their service provider staff will work them in the coming weeks. We will continue to prioritize the health of our residents and our staff, and we will continue to connect as many people as possible to permanent homes.”
Move-out is scheduled to begin the week of March 22, according to the city. About 600 people will be moved from the convention center to other shelters.
As part of the city’s Operation Shelter to Home initiative, the San Diego Convention Center was turned into a homeless shelter to allow residents who were staying at other shelters to safely social distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The effort was launched April 1, 2020 and has since served more than 4,000, people according to the city.
The initiative helped more than 1,200 individuals and 43 families find permanent or longer-term housing.
“It gives us a template for what this city could do when we truly commit ourselves to ending chronic homelessness," the mayor said.
San Diego city and county teamed up with the San Diego Convention Center Corporation and Regional Task Force on the Homeless to create the program. Agencies agreed to extend Operation Shelter to Home through January. With the city council’s approval, Mayor Gloria took a step further and extended the effort through March.
San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said the collaborative effort should continue to address homelessness around the county.
"We need that same energy to continue as we continue to try to tackle the underlying conditions that create the challenges of the unsheltered and continue to have our county step up," he said.
He added that since the county is expected to receive doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine next week, the county will primarily be administering that vaccination to eligible homeless residents.
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccination requires a single dose. Clinical trials in the U.S. showed it has a 72% efficacy rate.
“As a county, we will be prioritizing that vaccine for our unsheltered," Fletcher said. "It is easier to administer, it can get done quicker and so we will work not only for the folks here but throughout our region to make sure that our unsheltered, homebound seniors, our farm workers, those that are hardest to reach have access to the vaccine that is quickest to take effect with a single shot.”
City documents stated that the initiative costs around $5 million each month.
So what's next for the San Diego Convention Center? Fletcher said on Friday that the downtown building could potentially be considered a future vaccination site.