SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The 14-story Connections Housing shelter for the homeless is a "game changer" that should be replicated throughout San Diego, several city officials said Monday at a grand opening celebration for the facility.
The 223-bed shelter went into operation, following months of delays, in an 86-year-old downtown building that formerly housed the city's World Trade Center and, before that, an athletic club.
The concept of Connections Housing is to put the homeless and social and health services in the same location. The facility will offer studio apartments for 73 residents and transitional beds for another 150 people.
City Council President Todd Gloria called it a "game changer" for dealing with downtown's burgeoning homeless population of several thousand people.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represented downtown before redistricting, said the opening of Connections Housing should prompt similar efforts around the city.
"You can't stop now -- we have to take this model, which will be successful, and replicate it in other parts of the city," Faulconer said. "All of us know that, unfortunately, homelessness is not just a downtown problem."
Gloria said more than 1,000 homeless live in the beach areas, and a like number in the San Diego River bed through Mission Valley.
Mayor Bob Filner called the opening "an incredible step, but one of many we must take to finish this job" of getting the homeless of the streets.
Connections Housing was originally set to open last fall, and San Diego officials had hoped it would eliminate the need for the city's annual cold weather shelter.
Finding a site for a temporary facility over the winter months regularly generated heated neighborhood opposition.
However, problems that arose during renovations of the aging building created delays, pushing the grand opening until Monday, according to officials involved with the project.
The city, meanwhile, opened its winter shelter at 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan.
Some residents moved into Connections Housing, at 1250 Sixth Ave., last month.