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Temporary homeless shelter opens at San Diego Convention Center amid coronavirus pandemic

The San Diego Convention Center will be used to create more shelter space, allow more room between individuals per guidelines from public health officials.

SAN DIEGO — Furthering efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among San Diego’s homeless population, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Wednesday that the San Diego Convention Center will begin opening its doors as a temporary shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the news conference on Wednesday, city officials said three homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19 and city leaders say they expect there will be many more.

The move, starting with groups from the city's bridge shelters, is part of an effort to adhere to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines advising people to remain 6 feet apart during the pandemic.

City officials say the move is part of a new, system-wide, coordinated plan to further help sheltered and unsheltered individuals remain healthy during the global pandemic. 

"It’s more than just a temporary shelter, it’s a pathway to permanent housing to end the cycle of homelessness,” Faulconer said.

Dubbed “Operation Shelter to Home,” city officials say the temporary repurposing of the convention center as a shelter will support a broader regional approach to address homelessness during this state of emergency.

Faulconer says the convention center will be used to create more shelter space, allow more room between individuals per guidelines from public health officials, and centralize limited shelter staff.

“The goal is to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in San Diego. If we can’t fill our convention center with tourist then we will make sure it’s filled with hope to put it to good use,” Faulconer said.

City officials say the plan is to bring everyone from the bridge shelters to the convention center first, that’ll be up to 800 people. There will be healthcare providers on hand to check anyone for symptoms of coronavirus daily. If anyone is showing mild symptoms or does test positive for COVID-19 and does not need hospitalization, then they will stay in the 2,000 rooms that are currently available at local hotels.

Alpha Project President and CEO Bob McElroy said, “it’s been an emotional time trying to get all of this together. Many of the people at the shelter are aware of coronavirus and have the same fears and anxieties as the rest of us.”

Faulconer said the goal is to have 800 people temporarily housed at the convention center first, then transition those individuals into permanent housing once their mental and health care needs are met. Eventually, the city will bring in 1,500 people to the convention center.

Faulconer also said the city will be sending homeless advocates out onto the streets to bring individuals into the convention center, as well. The mayor says it’s important to bring people into a safe place to be monitored amid this global epidemic.

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According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing. 

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. 

  • Stay home when you are sick. 

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. 

The CDC also says facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a facemask.  

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