By Lana Harrison | Downtown Partnership News
That was the resounding slogan and three-pronged approach to tackling homelessness Mayor Faulconer announced in his 2018 State of the City address. In his speech just a year prior, he proposed a centralized assessment center “where any man or woman on the street can go to start the path to a better life.”
Now, after a challenging 2017, and three temporary bridge shelters later, the city of San Diego is about to deliver good on that promise. The new housing Navigation Center is slated to open in the fall of this year, taking the place of a former skydiving facility in the heart of East Village at 1401 Imperial Ave.
This move has been met with both laud and opposition, particularly impacting the community of East Village. In response, the Downtown San Diego Partnership hosted a public town hall meeting on June 20 at the Central Library for the community to receive information, ask questions and express concerns.
Panelists included Bahija Humphrey, then-assistant chief of civic initiatives for the city of San Diego and current director of the Performance and Analytics Department; Lisa Jones, director of Housing First Administration with San Diego Housing Commission; San Diego Assistant Police Chief Paul Connelly and Captain Scott Wahl; and Mario Sierra, the director of Environmental Services at the city.
With a $1,550,000 annual budget, navigators will not only connect individuals with housing, but will also help people with the requisite preparedness to receive and transition into housing, according to Jones.
Members of various East Village groups also distributed a letter at the meeting which outlined a list of concerns and expectations such as creating a review committee, serving the homeless individuals in East Village, designating a park ranger for East Village parks, and establishing similar centers throughout other parts of the San Diego.
The meeting provided ample time for response and questions from the community. Below is a selection of questions asked and summarized responses.
Q: Will individuals utilizing the Navigation Center be transported back to the areas they are arriving from and will people currently experiencing homelessness in East Village be the first to receive services?
The center is not intended to be a drop-in center, nor is there a plan to pick people up and bring them to the facility. However, because best practice is to take services and resources to where people already are, navigators will be conducting outreach in the community. The current homeless individuals in East Village will thus be a priority for service.
Q: Will there be increased police presence in the area surrounding the facility?
The Neighborhood Policing Division has already increased presence in the area and will continue to monitor activity closer to the opening. Between the three Homeless Outreach Teams (HOT), outreach is happening seven days a week. Additionally, newly trained officers will work under experienced officers in the Downtown division before being reassigned. This means that Downtown will have a constant flow of officers focused on the area. Community members can also report issues via the Get It Done online and mobile application. The city utilizes this community involvement in determining needs to address.
Q: What can we expect in terms of county involvement?
The center is not a countywide program — it’s focused on the city of San Diego. However, coordinators have talked with the county’s Behavioral Health Services about collaborating in providing mental health workers and licensed clinicians but have not yet landed on specifics of such a partnership. There are Mental Health Services Act funds that have yet to be spent by the county, so Humphrey encourages people to advocate for those funds to be allocated to assist in the Navigation Center’s efforts.
Q: What is the connection between the new three-hour abatement rule and the new storage facility? What is security like at that location?
The new storage facility in Sherman Heights provides an opportunity for more individuals to be able to safely store their belongings. The new three-hour abatement rule is only able to be implemented by officials if there is space available at the storage facility. In response to community concerns prior to the opening of the new facility, more police were sent to the area within the first week of its opening for increased monitoring. In the future, outreach workers at the storage facility will also educate people on the services at the Navigation Center.
Q: Who has responded to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Navigation Center?
The RFP was posted in February and submissions were required by April 26. Proposals are still under evaluation but approval of a contract by City Council is expected in July 2018. Proposals are scored by evaluators under oversight of an independent legal team. Submissions are currently confidential, even to city officials, but a recommendation will be brought to City Council for approval and the other agencies that submitted proposals will be revealed at that time.
Q: What is the plan for oversight?
There is a memorandum of understanding between the city and the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) that the SDHC will administrate this program on the city’s behalf. The SDHC will then hire an operator and will oversee that operator. The SDHC will request that the operator form an advisory committee comprised of community members who will have a direct line of communication with both the operator and city staff.
Q: How is housing allocation determined?
Housing is allocated on a national system that prioritizes the most vulnerable based on a score determined upon assessment. As a result, some people might be on the waiting list longer to receive housing depending on their score. For these people, we can focus on connecting them with other resources and interventions that might be available and helpful, such as Clean and Safe’s Family Reunification Program.
Q: Why is the city establishing one center in East Village as opposed to leasing several, smaller locations in various parts of the city?
The city did look at other locations and possibilities and decided that the available options wouldn’t fit the current needs. Purchase of the building that will serve as the site of the facility was unanimously approved by City Council on Jan. 31, 2018.
—Lana Harrison is the communications coordinator for the Downtown San Diego Partnership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.