Midway planners upset at plans for new homeless shelter
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 09/22/21 - 08:00 AM | 4566 views | 11 11 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DHS facility set up at Wyndham Garden Hotel in Midway District. PHOTO BY JUDY HOLIDAY
DHS facility set up at Wyndham Garden Hotel in Midway District. PHOTO BY JUDY HOLIDAY
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Midway-Pacific Highway Community planners are steamed about not being informed about plans for a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, or a local boutique hotel being used by the Department of Homeland Security for asylum seekers awaiting processing.

Lisa Jones, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at the San Diego Housing Commission, clued community planners in on plans by the City and County to open a new homeless shelter soon in the now-vacant former Pier 1 Imports building at 3220 Sports Arena Blvd.

“We’re proposing a much smaller shelter, 44 beds up to a maximum of 50, than other larger shelters in San Diego, which can house 150 to up to 324 beds at Golden Hall (downtown),” said Jones, who added residents under treatment would be allowed to leave the facility during the day.

“Alpha Project (homeless providers) will be partnering with the City and County to operate this shelter, which will be targeting some of the folks you see on the street today. Alpha Project will run day-to-day operations, provide onsite 24/7 security, and leverage other resources for shelter residents.”

Jones added there would be a dedicated contact available at all times at the proposed shelter, and that there would be a hotline number area residents could call should problems arise.

Jones’ presentation drew an angry response from planners and residents alike in Midway, which continues to be a high-profile and high-risk area for problematic homelessness.

“To say that we were all blindsided is an understatement,” said Midway plan chair Cathy Kenton expressing dismay that the community was not informed earlier about homeless shelter plans.

“We have elderly people here that are so vulnerable in this neighborhood,” pointed out Midway planner Amy Stark, an employee at The Orchard Active Senior Living Apartments near the proposed homeless shelter. “Is there a way we can pull the plug on this if it’s not working out?”

“I’m horrified to learn of this though I’m trying to be open-minded,” said Midway Planner Judy Holiday. “There are some pretty serious issues for this community coming from the homeless population, which is very disruptive already to the quality of life for many of us. I can’t imagine another 45 people having the opportunity to come out and roam around in the residential community. This is not the right place.”

Noting the new shelter is proposed to target the chronically unhoused and many with substance-abuse issues, Jones described the new proposed Midway homeless shelters as the first “harm reduction” facility of its kind in the City. “It would better meet people’s needs where they are,” she said.

Jones said if all goes well and public officials sign off on the new shelter, that it could be up and operating as soon as November.

Near the end of the meeting, Midway planning member Tod Howarth discussed being startled on Sunday, Sept. 12 while witnessing a Department of Homeland Security bus entering the guarded gate and rolling in alongside outside popup tents at the recently fenced-off Wyndham Garden Hotel at 3737 Sports Arena Blvd. He approached a security guard noting he was a concerned local resident and community planner and asked what was up.

“I was told it was none of my business,” said Howarth, adding he was directed to another guard at another gate where he repeated his questions and was told that “what was going on was confidential.”

Howarth said he was outraged noting, “As far as I know the Midway board was never notified about any of this. This is our district. I expected a public notification, a head’s up, or some courtesy or input request would have been warranted. People need to know.”

“The information that I have from a briefing a member of our staff participated in previously is that this is a DHS facility for asylum seekers who are awaiting processing, which typically happens at a port of entry,” said Mary Anne Pintar, chief of staff for Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52). “These facilities don’t have the capacity for the current number of people presenting themselves at the border. Typically they are detained until they can be interviewed, given a hearing date, and cleared for release.”

Pintar had no further information as to how long, or how many, people were being temporarily held by the DHS at the Wyndham Garden Hotel.

 

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