By Vince Meehan
Father Joe’s Villages has been a fixture in San Diego for longer than most can remember. Over the years, the name has become synonymous with hope for San Diego’s homeless population. The village started out as a humble soup kitchen to provide a healthy meal for those living on the streets, but within the last decade has grown to become San Diego’s blue-ribbon facility in dealing with our homeless crisis.
Paul Sheck is the program manager at the Father Joe’s Day Center and runs to day-to-day operations at the facility. The Center sits apart from the Village, a short distance up the street from Father Joe’s at 299 17th Street. Sheck is resourceful and street-savvy which gives him the ability to resolve complex issues on the spot. This is key to maintaining a solid working relationship with his staff as well as the clients who show up on a daily basis.
“The San Diego Day Center for Homeless Adults is a place where you can come for a variety of things,” Sheck said. “For the people living directly on the streets downtown, we provide basic humanitarian services. Things you can’t get out on the street like mail, laundry and storage. An example is that we provide 30,000 showers a year, and that can be important if one of our clients has a job interview to go to.”
The main function of the Day Center is to serve as square one to anyone who wants to take that first giant step of getting off the streets. The center accepts single adults only, with families being referred to Father Joe’s Villages around the corner at 1501 Imperial Avenue. The initial and crucial step for the clients is to get their info entered into the CES (Coordinated Entry System) and obtain the “orange card” which allows them access to the many services designed to assist clients to get off the street. It is also good for one meal a day at Father Joe’s Villages. 1,300,000 meals were served at Father Joe’s Villages last year.
In addition to showers and laundry, the Day Center also serves as a place where unsheltered people can store their belongings and charge their cell phones. It also provides a safe and secure location where people can get off the streets for a few peaceful moments while indulging in some bad ‘60s and ‘70s television shows. This escape is priceless if you live on the streets because you can rest without worrying about watching your back 24/7.
Upon entering the center, clients are first assigned to a case manager who will assist the client when they come back.
“We call our case management voluntary for the client, but mandatory for the case manager,” Sheck noted with a half-smile. “What I mean by that is with the clientele that we serve, it’s not a given that they will come back to follow up. It’s a really iffy thing, if they don’t want to talk to you that day, then you don’t get to talk to them.”
The case manager will initiate the relationship with what Sheck calls a “diversion conversation” where a quick and easy option to resolve their homelessness may be found. The most common solution is reaching out to family members who may be able to offer housing. If that is possible, the San Diego Downtown Partnership may provide bus tickets to wherever the client needs to go. Many times this option is successful and the situation is resolved without further action. But more often, the client is entered into the system for a road to recovery.
The progress of the clients is tracked both to monitor the success of the program, and to aid in funding the center.
“The center is run by Father Joe’s but funded by the San Diego Housing Commission. Our building belongs to the city and the property it is located on is owned by Caltrans. All services are tracked on a system called C-STAR, which tracks it right down to the second. I can tell you that 8339 people in my last fiscal year came through that gate,” noted Sheck while pointing to the entrance of the center. “Also, 100,000 services were provided by my staff. And that’s not a hand count or an estimate; it’s a fact.”
Sheck used the C-STAR system to generate figures for July of 2020. This included 2400 showers, 313 loads of laundry, 3490 mail pick-ups and basic needs met for 3119 people. The Center also provides help with creating resumes and even performs mock job interviews to prepare their clients for employment. They have a clothing closet stocked with donated items that clients can access for appointments.
“If you do have an interview, and you don’t have anything to wear, they’ll take you in there and if there is something that fits you, then it’s yours.” Sheck said.
Sheck and the team at the Day Center go all in to provide whatever care they can but the clients must want the help too. Unfortunately, because of that, some people remain unhoused. But Sheck stays positive knowing that the majority of people who come through his doors receive absolutely critical aid and a path to getting off the streets.
“For a lot of the people that come here, they’ve been out on the streets for a long time. So they’ll use our services, and what our job is – every one of us – is to build a rapport with the people, and eventually, get them into housing,” Sheck added. “Sometimes, things don’t go the way we’d like, but you know, it doesn’t matter to us because we’re all working towards a goal. We wish it would go faster, but in the end we wanna see everybody that comes here housed.”
— Vince Meehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.