County and city officials visited and toured on Thursday an 11-unit, 22-bed “Community Harm Reduction Safe Haven” scheduled to open early January.
The facility, operated by Episcopal Community Services, will be able to serve up to 22 unsheltered residents living with mental illness and/or chronic substance use conditions. It is one component of a city-county partnership entered into by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Mayor Todd Gloria in June 2021.
“Every person living on the streets in San Diego County is not going through the same situation. Different types of solutions are needed and this program is one of them,” Fletcher said. “The community harm reduction teams, shelter and now this safe haven are important tools to support unsheltered residents, overcome their reliance on substances and get them connected to permanent housing.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the new facility is just one piece of the puzzle to reduce homelessness. He said other efforts are underway to shelter those on the streets during the winter months.
“We have multiple sites, largely in the downtown area, that will open up once the temperature gets below a certain level or there’s a higher prediction for rain events. But I’m interested in expanding that further. I think our next addition to our inclement weather operations will be the Old Central Library – a shuttered building owned by the city that should be put back into use.”
Gloria told KPBS that his administration is looking at other city owned facilities to repurpose for sheltering environments, but finding staffing is a significant issue.
Last December, the city and county opened the 44-bed Midway C-HRT Shelter in a former Pier One store. According to a joint statement, since inception of the C-HRT program, 209 clients have received care at the shelter.
The safe haven, on the campus of Veterans Village San Diego at 4141 Pacific Highway, will increase the overall capacity of the C-HRT program and the supportive housing component is intended to assist with the transition from homeless and/or shelter to permanent housing.
“This Safe Haven is the next positive step in the city-county partnership to address homelessness with bold and meaningful action. Addiction and mental illness are blocking the path forward for many of our unsheltered residents, and this healthcare-focused shelter will help clear the way for folks who raise their hand and ask for assistance,” Gloria said.
Under the partnership, the city will cover the costs to use the facility and the county will cover operating costs.
This will be Episcopal Community Services’s second safe haven facility. It also operates a location in Bankers Hill.
“ECS is committed to providing a warm and welcoming environment for our clients as they receive the care and support they need to recover and achieve independence,” said Elizabeth Fitzsimons, CEO of Episcopal Community Services. “Our team of multidisciplinary experts deliver evidence-based care with compassion and empathy, drawing on lived and professional experience.
Fitzsimons said every new facility counts.
“Clients will come to us from a shelter and they’ll be referred to us. And they’ll spend time here rebuilding their lives, starting their path to recovery, starting their path to independence. And then eventually moving on to permanent housing,” she said.
The Episcopal Community Services CEO said the Safe Haven space is different from most other homeless shelters.
“It’s really meant to be like a home to these people. And it is smaller because they’re going to be spending more time here together. And we don’t have a time limit on how long they can be with us; some of our clients stay with us as long as two years,” Fitzsimons said.
At the facility, at least two staff will be present 24/7. It will have a designated entrance for clients and staff, separate from the treatment programs on campus, a common area for socialization, with semi-private bedrooms and Family Health Centers of San Diego will provide ongoing care coordination, case management and support services as needed either in person or virtually.
“The partnership between the county and city is critical to advance the ultimate goal of helping people who are experiencing homelessness by providing health and housing,” said Dr. Piedad Garcia, deputy director with the county’s Behavioral Health Services. “It’s as simple as that.”