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Some San Diego shelters stop intake due to COVID-19 outbreak

Officials say the cold, wet weather and the latest case surge is heavily impacting those experiencing homelessness in San Diego County.

SAN DIEGO — At least four shelters for those experiencing homelessness in the San Diego County area were unable to take any more people in Thursday because of COVID-19 outbreaks. The wet weather, combined with the spike in COVID cases is a huge hurdle for our most vulnerable population.

Mitch Mitchell with the Lucky Duck Foundation, a local charity tasked with tackling our homeless crisis, said the COVID-19 pandemic and this winter's case surge only compounds a growing issue.

"It's difficult to be cold and wet and living on the streets. It's even worse to be cold, wet and hungry,” Mitchell shared.

Deacon Jim Vargas, President of Father Joe's Villages, another homeless resource in San Diego agrees. 

"The combination of the two can be extremely detrimental to individuals on the streets. We make additional beds available for individuals when it's particularly bad at night. Just last night we called it and all 55 beds were full," Vargas said.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said combating homelessness was one of his toughest jobs in 2021 but now with the weather and the COVID uptick, it's a growing uphill battle. 

"We've seen some progress but clearly no one in San Diego is content with the current circumstances," he said. "Homelessness is seen in every neighborhood and it requires more aggressive action."

In the latest round of testing released on Dec. 30, Alpha Project - another homeless resource in our area - and Father Joe's Villages reported 50 shelter residents tested positive for COVID-19. Those people needed to be isolated. which led to Alpha's 17th & Imperial and 16th & Newton sites and Father Joe's Golden Hall and Paul Mirabile Center sites to stop taking in more people who need help.

Mitchell said, "They've [the City of San Diego] expanded the number of inclement weather beds to house people. They're working on behavioral health solutions and we've had conversations with [San Diego Board of Supervisors] Chairman [Nathan] Fletcher about the same issue." 

However, Mitchell added, to help put a dent in the problem, so much more needs to be done. 

“Last year we worked with the previous mayoral administration to get the convention center open to house people because we were worried about COVID. This year we have a bigger concern because omicron is so infectious," he said. "Several cities have decided that they need to take their own actions to get people out of the weather."

Deacon Vargas said typically, Father Joe’s makes extra room on cold wet nights. 

"Those that need help come in at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. They're able to have a meal with us and we set up the additional beds because these beds we set up are not typically there," he said. 

And when it comes to COVID, Vargas said it's important that they make room for social distancing. 

"Mask wearing as well as hygiene and raising awareness and testing," he said.

The Lucky Duck Foundation takes year-round donations and have several ways that you can support their efforts. To help out, click here.

Father Joe’s Villages is having a $150,000 matching donation drive that ends on Dec. 31. If you’d like to help out with their efforts, click here.

The San Diego Housing Commission released this statement regarding the COVID surge and the shelter situation:

"COVID-19 cases among the general population are surging in the County of San Diego, as they are in other areas of the country. Similar increases are occurring in the population of people experiencing homelessness who are staying in shelters San Diego.

The City of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) and shelter operators are collaborating to provide locations where individuals who test positive can be temporarily isolated from the rest of the shelter population. These include temporary tents set up for shelter residents who test positive to stay while waiting for County of San Diego isolation beds to become available.

In the latest round of testing, Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages, the operators of the City’s Bridge Shelters and the Interim Shelter program at Father Joe’s Villages, reported 50 shelter residents (across the shelter programs) tested positive for COVID-19 and need to be isolated from the general shelter population. Shelter intakes are temporarily suspended at these shelters, which include Alpha’s 17th & Imperial and 16th & Newton sites and Father Joe’s Golden Hall and Paul Mirabile Center sites.

Sick residents are being provided nutrition and a place to recover; if anyone becomes seriously ill (beyond standard flu symptoms), shelter operators will connect them to emergency care immediately.

The City, County, SDHC and shelter operators are continuing to work diligently, expeditiously and collaboratively to provide shelter for San Diegans experiencing homelessness. Shelter operators’ staff continue to support residents in these temporary isolation spaces by providing sleeping accommodations, meals and any other basic necessities required and regularly provided through shelter operations."

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