Council takes initial steps to place homeless center downtown - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Council takes initial steps to place homeless center in downtown area

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Preliminary steps were taken by the City Council Tuesday to establish a permanent homeless center in downtown San Diego's financial district.

The City Council voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with a developer and a service provider to finalize plans to convert the World Trade Center into what has been touted a one-stop homeless center.

The proposal for the 12-story, city-owned building at 1250 Sixth Ave. calls for an on-site medical clinic, mental health screening, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and living space for up to 223 people in both long-term supportive housing and emergency shelter beds.

It will cost about $34 million to rehabilitate the historic building, according to a report by the Centre City Development Corp., San Diego's redevelopment arm.

Funding for the shelter would come largely from tax credits, grants and money for low-income housing. However, officials must still identify about $3.5 million in funding.

Officials hope to have the shelter open by December 2012.

Before that can happen, the City Council must still give the project its final blessing by approving a development permit. That is scheduled to happen sometime in the spring.

A coalition of nearby businesses and downtown groups that previously opposed the permanent shelter today told the City Council they now support the project, although they have some concerns.

Craig Benedetto, who represents the coalition, said the location in the financial district remains "problematic."

"Our main concern is that it will be a magnet for the homeless," Benedetto said.

To help ease some of the fears of the community, the City Council voted to establish a neighborhood advisory board on the project within the next 60 days.

Councilman Todd Gloria said the facility would help serve the most vulnerable and would become a model for similar projects in other San Diego neighborhoods.

"In my estimation, there is not a more important civic project in downtown than this one," Gloria said.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents downtown, also wants the model replicated in other parts of the city.

"This cannot be the only facility," he said.

Faulconer has long argued that homeless services should not just be located in downtown.

Many of the speakers in favor of the permanent homeless shelter described the project as "historic."

"Before us is a historic opportunity to reduce homelessness in our community, an opportunity to save taxpayer money and provide a future for those in need," said Brian Maienschein, a former City Council member who now works on homeless issues for the local United Way.

If it is ultimately approved, the center would be established with Family Health Centers, Affirmed Housing and People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, which operates a similar facility in Los Angeles that offers a "mall" approach for homeless services.

A recent survey of the homeless in downtown San Diego was completed by the Downtown San Diego Partnership and CCDC. Volunteers over three days made contact with 1,040 homeless people in downtown and interviewed 738.

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