By DAVE SCHWAB | Downtown News
The special needs of families and single women are being addressed at a recently minted shelter at Golden Hall downtown operated by Father Joe’s Villages.
That shelter, along with two other existing bridge shelters, recently had its funding extended for another year by San Diego City Council.“This is all run by Father Joe’s, staffed by us and funded by the city,” said Garrett Williams, a Father Joe’s outreach worker during a recent tour of the Golden Hall shelter. “There are 100 beds for families, 25 beds for single women. We provide three hot meals a day. There are common areas, laundry facilities, security guards. The facility is staffed 24/7.”
“The decision to keep the shelter for families and single women at Golden Hall was unexpected,” said Bill Bolstad, Father Joe’s chief revenue officer. “We continue to believe that greater proximity to the comprehensive services at our main campus (1501 Imperial Ave.) is in the best long-term interests of the families we serve. We remain committed to meeting the needs of women and families who are homeless as effectively as possible in the current Golden Hall location.”
Myra, 28, is one of many women who’ve been given a chance to get back on their feet and receive social services since the Downtown Golden Hall shelter opened in May.
An unwed mother at age 16, Myra dropped out of high school and has been struggling to take care of her family ever since. She talked about how she came to be at the Golden Hall shelter.
“I had my job and two kids just renting with a friend and we started disagreeing and not getting along,” said Myra, adding her situation had become intolerable. “A girl told me Father Joe’s helps you out with child care and you don’t have to pay rent (temporarily). I’d been struggling for 10 years. I asked, ‘Where are you God? This is too much.’
“I wanted to move forward,” concluded Myra, describing the Golden Hall shelter as “paradise” compared to what it would be like to be homeless on the street.
Even so, Myra acknowledged, “You can see a lot of hurt, how frustrated people can get. They don’t understand what’s going on.”
While women like Myra are at Golden Hall, they can also access help from other programs such as the People Assisting The Homeless program.
With the help of case workers at Father Joe’s in the shelter, Myra’s situation has become more manageable.
Williams said, “Our main priority was to get her into housing and make sure she’s eventually able to exist on her own — and support her in every way possible.”
Myra has now graduated from Golden Hall, is successfully living in her own apartment, and has gone back to school and gotten her GED.
“I’m grateful they’re helping me and it’s good,” Myra said. “I got closer to God. I know he has something better for me.”
Regarding his role in outreach, Williams said, “It feels good to help people. But there are so many people to help. It does get a little chaotic. It’s hard not to be emotionally connected.“You see a lot of hardship, a lot of suffering,” continued Williams adding, “It’s cases like Myra that make it all worthwhile. You see they’re able to graduate from school and get out of a shelter situation, moving toward a more stable environment. It’s a good way to be.”
Deacon Jim Vargas, Father Joe’s president/CEO, noted the city-owned Golden Hill shelter for women and families was opened after Father Joe’s Villages abandoned its temporary bridge shelter at 14th and Commercial in April, to begin construction on 400-plus affordable housing units at that site.
“We moved people to Golden Hall with the intention of their being there three to four months, and that the city would go ahead with reconstruction of the tent shelter on 17th Street,” Vargas said adding, “we know there are still hundreds of people on the streets.”
The homeless task force’s Point-In-Time Count annual survey put San Diego County’s homeless total in 2019 at 8,102, down from both last year’s observed total of 8,576 and the 2017 total of 9,116. Vargas said that could be misleading.
“Every single person out there has not been captured in this count,” he said. “We know that last year, through our system, about 28,000 people who were homeless were served, in one capacity or another, through various entities. At Father Joe’s Villages alone, we saw 15,000 unique individuals last year.”
Vargas pointed out San Diego has the fourth largest population in the country, behind only New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.
“New York has about 80,000 homeless, Los Angeles about 55,000 and Seattle has 12,000 to 15,000,” he said adding that San Diego, “needs the infrastructure to really address the size of the population.”
Vargas noted San Diego’s ongoing affordable housing shortage and rising rents are causing people to “hang on by their fingernails, lose their places and fall onto the streets.”
And families, children especially, are hard hit by the housing crunch and the homeless crisis. “These kids typically are developmentally delayed and have social and emotional problems,” Vargas said. “The goal is to be able to work with them to get them up to the level of their peers.”
Pointing out homeless children are at higher risk to become school dropouts and homeless themselves later on, Vargas nonetheless is encouraged because, “They’re very resilient. We work with kids from infancy all the way up to young transitional adults who are out of the foster care system, ages 18 to 25.”
Vargas is optimistic about the future of homeless intervention and treatment given the proper amount of money, infrastructure and services can be provided.
“We work closely with political, business and community leaders and there are a lot of resources coming down from all the various levels,” he said. “But we need to be smart about how we spend our precious dollars. We need a comprehensive plan. We need a framework within which to work.”
— Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.