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San Diego could move families into Project Roomkey trailers

Three years after San Diego city officials accepted 20 campers as part of a state of emergency program to protect the homeless from the pandemic, 12 of the trailers appear for the first time on the about to be put into service.

A majority of city council members, serving on the rules committee, agreed Wednesday to amend a contract with the Jewish Family Service to allocate funds for a fourth secure parking lot on city-owned property in the Rose Canyon area.

The additional $474,000 budgeted through June would allow the charity to house 15 spaces for people living in their cars to park safely overnight, as well as 12 trailers for other people without accommodation.

The unanimous decision came without any questioning from board members over the three years it took to make the campers available to families in need.

Documents released under the Public Records Act show the city originally planned to place all 20 trailers in Rose Canyon, but the number was reduced.

Mayor Todd Gloria’s press office did not respond to questions this week about where and when the remaining trailers could be put into service.

Gloria, however, announced earlier this week that it plans to crack down on homelessness on the streets and in vehicles.

At the same time, the mayor promoted a new proposed ordinance that would require people living in tents and encampments to seek shelter in mass shelters, even as the pandemic persists.

Widespread exposure to COVID-19 in congregate living situations is the very scenario the trailer program was designed to avoid.

“I want to be clear,” Gloria said at a press conference Thursday. “Once we have these resources in place, the response from our homeless population can no longer be ‘No’.

“They can’t say no to getting off the sidewalk,” he said.

In January, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the city accepted 20 trailers in the early days of the pandemic to provide safe housing for homeless people.

But the trailers have yet to be made available to vulnerable populations, as required by the California Department of Social Services, even as other cities moved residents into theirs within months.

Instead, the trailers donated to San Diego were kept while Mayor Todd Gloria and former Mayor Kevin Faulconer deliberated on how and where to put them into service.

The current mayor blamed his predecessor.

“When Mayor Gloria was informed that the previous administration had put away 20 trailers received at the height of the pandemic, he asked his new Homelessness Strategies and Solutions department to explore sites to locate and use the trailers,” spokesman David Rolland said via email.

“The task was difficult, requiring infrastructure upgrades such as electricity, sewer, water and lighting, in addition to involving a service provider.”

The rules committee vote last Wednesday indicates that additional funds for Jewish Family Service will be approved when the matter comes before the full board in the coming weeks.

City officials say campers could be occupied as soon as a week later.

The rules committee’s vote came after a 45-minute discussion about the Rose Canyon secure parking site, which would join similar facilities currently operating in Mission Valley, Serra Mesa and Kearny Mesa.

Instead of asking about the three-year delay, council members praised Gloria administration officials for their work in identifying Rose Canyon for use as a safe parking resource.

“Thank you for the good work your department has done on this,” council member Joe LaCava told Hafsa Kaka, the city’s homelessness strategy and solutions manager. “Even if we’d like to flip a switch and make it work in the morning, it’s a lot of work.”

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno indirectly referenced the delay.

“We need to move quickly to bring this program to council,” she said. “I’m happy to see that the caravans we received from the state during the pandemic are being put to good use.”

Kaka said the city considered 10 different sites before settling on the Rose Canyon location off Morena Boulevard. Locations can be difficult to find due to environmental concerns, land use restrictions, impacts on city operations and security, she said.

“When looking at a site for viability, security is paramount,” Kaka told the committee.

The city spent more than $1 million preparing the property to accommodate cars and trailers, she added. The program will include 24-hour security, showers and bathrooms and comprehensive services to help place clients in permanent housing.

Chris Olsen, the chief of staff of the Jewish Family Service, said the charity will prioritize families when deciding who will be allowed to move into campers.

“We plan to identify families with multiple children first to match them with the trailers,” Olsen said. “One person in a vehicle is pretty tight, but five is even more difficult.”

The contract amendment approved by the committee affects the existing agreement which runs until June. The agreement also allows up to three one-year options to extend the contract for up to $2.8 million per year.

The city accepted the 20 trailers in the spring of 2020 as part of Project Roomkey, a state effort to promote non-congregate living for homeless people to protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

As recently as mid-January, the city planned to put 19 trailers into service at the Rose Canyon site, according to a memo from the mayor’s office.

Under the agreement with the Jewish Family Service, 12 trailers will be put into service once the city council gives its approval. The thirteenth will serve as an office and meeting space.

Council members are due to review the contract amendment on Monday.

Earlier this week, new data released by the regional homelessness task force showed the difficulty facing officials in San Diego.

According to the task force, 725 homeless people found accommodation in February, most renting accommodation themselves.

But in the same month, according to the task force, 1,036 people were left homeless for the first time.

California Daily Newspapers

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