Midway-Pacific Highway Community planners are thrilled that they are not being notified of plans for a homeless shelter in their neighborhood or a local boutique hotel that the Department of Homeland Security will use for asylum seekers awaiting processing.
Lisa Jones, Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the San Diego Housing Commission, briefed community planners on the city and county plans to open a new homeless shelter in the now-vacant former Pier 1 Imports building on 3220 Sports Arena Blvd.
“We’re suggesting a much smaller property, 44 beds to a maximum of 50, than other larger San Diego accommodations that can accommodate 150 to 324 beds in Golden Hall (downtown),” said Jones, who added residents were allowed to treat the facility during the day leaving.
“Alpha Project (homeless provider) will work with the city and county to run this animal shelter, which caters to some of the people you see on the street today. Alpha Project will run day-to-day operations, provide around-the-clock security and use other resources for the residents of animal shelters. “
Jones added that there would be a dedicated contact at all times in the proposed shelter and that there would be a hotline number that residents could call in case any problems arise.
Jones’ presentation sparked an angry reaction from planners and residents in Midway, which remains a high-profile and high-risk area for problematic homelessness.
“To say we were all blind is an understatement,” said Cathy Kenton, Chair of the Midway Plan, expressing dismay that the community was not notified of plans for homeless shelters sooner.
“We have elderly people here who are so at risk in this neighborhood,” said Midway planner Amy Stark, an employee of The Orchard Active Senior Living Apartments near the planned homeless shelter. “Is there some way to unplug it if it doesn’t work?”
“I’m horrified to find out, even though I’m trying to be open-minded,” said Midway planner Judy Holiday. “There are some pretty serious problems for this community arising from the homeless population, which is already seriously affecting the quality of life for many of us. I can’t imagine another 45 people having the chance to walk around the shared apartment. This is not the right place. “
Noting that the new homeless shelter is being proposed to reach the chronically uninhabited and many with substance abuse problems, Jones described the new Midway homeless shelters as the first of its kind in the city for “harm reduction.” “It would better meet people’s needs where they are,” she said.
Jones said if all goes well and officials sign the new shelter, it could be operational as early as November.
Towards the end of the meeting, Midway Planner Tod Howarth spoke of being surprised on Sunday, September 12, to watch a Department of Homeland Security bus pull in through the guarded gate and next to the pop-up tents in the recently fenced off Wyndham Garden Hotel at curled up 3737 Sports Arena Blvd. He reached out to a security guard and found he was a concerned local resident and community planner and asked what was going on.
“I was told it’s none of my business,” Howarth said, adding that he was directed to another guard at another gate, where he repeated his questions and told him that “what was going on was confidential” .
Howarth said he was outraged, remarking, “As far as I know, the Midway Board of Directors was never informed of this. This is our district. I expected that a public notification, heads-up, courtesy or prompt would have been warranted. People need to know. “
“The information I have from a briefing that a member of our staff attended is that this is a DHS facility for asylum seekers waiting to be processed, which usually takes place at a port of entry,” said Mary Anne Pintar, Chief of Staff for Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52). “These facilities do not have the capacity for the current number of people who present themselves at the border. Usually they are detained until they can be interrogated, a date set for a hearing, and released for release. “
Pintar had no further information on how long or how many people were temporarily detained by the DHS at the Wyndham Garden Hotel.