Major collaborative effort – ‘Operation Shelter To Home’ at the Convention Center – leads to life-changing shift in City’s homeless system

City of San Diego logoIn the final days of his administration, San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer today joined Assemblymember and Mayor-elect Todd Gloria to celebrate the regional collaboration and key organizations that played major roles in the life-changing emergency effort to safely protect the health of San Diegans experiencing homelessness during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Known as Operation Shelter to Home, those efforts to utilize the San Diego Convention Center to stop the spread of the virus are now on pace to have helped over 1,100 individuals transition from shelter beds to a permanent or longer-term home by the end of December.

Today’s announcement comes as the operation prepares to move hundreds of individuals currently housed at the Convention Center and other short-term resources into two hotels purchased by the City and San Diego Housing Commission that have been transformed into 332 units of permanent housing with on-site supportive services.

On April 1, Operation Shelter to Home launched to prevent the spread of the virus by allowing for greater physical distancing, strict health guidelines and proactive COVID-19 testing. The collaborative effort between the City of San Diego, County of San Diego, San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC), Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), San Diego Convention Center and homeless service providers has been lauded for its ability to successfully manage a population of over 1,000 individuals per day and keep a low COVID-19 positivity rate among shelter clients and staff. Federal and state officials, including U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams and State of California Controller Betty Yee, have visited the site.

The purchase of the two hotels is part of broader housing navigation strategies that have been a key component of the operation since its inception. To date, more than 840 individuals plus an additional 45 families have obtained permanent and longer-term housing, and hundreds more are matched to housing resources like vouchers or other rental subsidies.

The success of housing navigation in San Diego can be attributed to SDHC’s Housing Navigation Teams, working in collaboration with RTFH staff; streamlining of processes in the region’s Coordinated Entry System (CES) which matches people to a housing voucher or subsidy; and reducing barriers for access to various voucher and subsidy programs through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, San Diego County’s Project One for All initiative and more. This builds upon and significantly expands the housing efforts at the City’s bridge shelter program before the pandemic.

Regional organizations took several steps to protect vulnerable individuals living on the streets, including:

  • Installing hundreds of handwashing stations throughout the region
  • Providing hundreds of hotel rooms with wrap-around services to high-risk individuals, including those in the homeless population
  • Deploying public health nurses to shelters across the region
  • Assigning public health nurses to Homeless Outreach Teams to educate individuals living unsheltered about COVID-19
  • Opening a transitional housing facility on Palm Avenue for families experiencing homelessness
  • Providing ongoing updates, supplies and guidance to service providers

San Diego is the only major county in California where overall homelessness has gone down for two consecutive years. This year’s Point-in-Time count showed a 4 percent overall decrease in homelessness in the City and a 12 percent decrease in those living unsheltered outside.

Operation Shelter to Home supports and furthers the goals laid out in the City of San Diego’s Community Action Plan on Homelessness released last year.

What People Are Saying

Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer: “During a year that has been filled with so much uncertainty, there is one thing that we know to be true: San Diego’s homeless system has been forever transformed by the work of Operation Shelter to Home and the many partners who contributed to its success. This pandemic brought our region together like never before to work toward our shared goals of protecting our most vulnerable residents and removing barriers to housing – and now over 1,100 people will have a permanent place of their own to call home.”

Councilmember and Assemblymember-elect Chris Ward: “San Diego’s proactive use of the Convention Center saved lives and created much-needed opportunities for homeless San Diegans to safely shelter-in-place across our entire shelter network. Now as hundreds of individuals prepare to move from the Convention Center into two hotels recently purchased by the Housing Commission, we’ve taken another step forward in ensuring a system that is focused on delivering housing opportunities, paired with wrap-around services, for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

San Diego Housing Commission President and CEO Richard C. Gentry: “Operation Shelter to Home has demonstrated what we can accomplish through collaboration and coordination to address homelessness in San Diego. The San Diego Housing Commission thanks the Mayor, City Council and the many organizations involved with this initiative for their commitment to work together and implement innovative solutions to homelessness.”

San Diego Convention Center President and CEO Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe: “For eight months, our San Diego Convention Center team has worked closely with the City, County and our regional partners to provide a safe and welcoming environment for this emergency shelter. Along the way, we have learned so much—not only about advanced PPE and physical distancing but also about the diverse community in which we live and work. While the pandemic has put a hold on our primary role as an economic engine for San Diego, I am proud of our collective efforts to live out our values and support the most vulnerable individuals among us.”

Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler: “The success we’ve had at Operation Shelter to Home is due in no small part to the people who are sheltered there and the front-line staff who serve them. They are highly motivated to stay safe and to find housing options. This has been a monumental effort and should be celebrated. Our goal at the RTFH is to bring the lessons we’ve learned here at the Convention Center to other programs in the region, to fill in gaps that may exist, and strengthen their effectiveness.”

Alpha Project President and CEO Bob McElroy: “During this pandemic, our regional leaders and our Alpha Project staff have worked day and night to keep our folks healthy inside the Convention Center. I can’t tell you what it means to see so many of our clients moving into a home of their own over the past eight months, but it truly is remarkable. Alpha Project is proud to be a part of this life-saving effort and building a model for housing that will live on long after we go back to the shelters.”

Father Joe’s Villages President and CEO Deacon Jim Vargas: “Because of this groundbreaking collaboration between service providers, City, County, Housing Commission, Regional Task Force on the Homeless, and Convention Center, Father Joe’s Villages was able to enact physical distancing very early in the COVID-19 crisis while also serving more individuals, helping to mitigate the risk for those most vulnerable in our community. Father Joe’s Villages is proud to be a part of this truly life-saving effort, both as a shelter provider and a medical care provider. We also look forward to continuing our work with the City and Housing Commission at the bridge shelter at Golden Hall and at the newly renovated permanent housing community in Kearny Mesa.”