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Something for something

According to a board member for St. Vincent de Paul, the East Village homeless-services provider, there are plenty of property owners and businesses, including Quantum Code, willing to pony up money for a new Downtown facility for the homeless, but they’re going to want something in return.

At a meeting of the Downtown San Diego Partnership yesterday, at which SVdP was given the opportunity to present its proposal for a “one-stop” homeless-services center, David Malcolm, an SVdP board member and former port commissioner, told the audience that a wealthy donor, who preferred to remain anonymous, “had committed to filling any gap” in funding for the homeless-services center. But there was a catch: The donor wanted a federal judge to nullify a legal settlement that forbids San Diego police from ticketing people for sleeping on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

(Some background: A selection committee worked for more than a year deciding between proposals submitted by St. Vincent de Paul and L.A.-based PATH. The committee went with PATH after an independent analysis determined that St. Vincent’s proposal lacked reliable funding sources.)

In the last couple months, PATH’s facilitated a number of public meetings to allay any concerns that nearby businesses and residents might have with the facility’s proposed location at the city-owned World Trade Center building at Sixth Avenue and A Street. While folks have lamented the fact that PATH’s project will provide fewer beds—225 compared with SVdP’s proposed 500—no one’s mentioned any quid pro quo donation that might make SVdP’s project financially viable.

I talked to Malcolm after the meeting and he admitted that it’s been two and a half years since he last talked to the donor—long before any serious discussions began about a homeless-services center. Malcolm said his comments were based on assumptions—he said he’s pretty certain that businesses and wealthy Downtown condo owners would be willing to pony up money for SVdP’s project as long as they get something in exchange—giving police back the ability to hand out illegal-lodging tickets 24/7.

Getting rid of the ticket ban has become a key focus—sometimes the focus—of discussions about the homeless-services center. The argument that drove the settlement is that it’s unconstitutional to ticket someone who’s got no place to sleep but the street. Currently there’s far more homeless people than beds available. But, unlike a similar legal settlement in L.A., which specifies how many beds are needed before police can start issuing tickets—and what kind of beds (housing plus services—San Diego’s settlement says only that a “substantial” number of beds are necessary. Per the settlement, a judge—not the city nor the plaintiffs—has final say over the definition of “substantial.”

Even if the money materialized, it’s not likely the selection committee will reconsider SVdP’s proposal. City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who chairs the City Council’s Land Use & Housing Committee, which is scheduled to vote next month on whether to send the PATH proposal on to the full City Council, described the process of reviewing the two proposals as “vigorous” and one that “has to be respected.” And Connections Housing—the umbrella group that includes PATH and its two main partners in the project, Affirmed Housing and Family Health Center, issued this statement yesterday afternoon:

After a year long process in which stakeholders from every part of downtown were represented, the selection committee for the one stop service and residential facility for homeless people selected the Connections Housing proposal of PATH, Affirmed Housing, and Family Health Centers.

The selection committee particularly noted our team’s “proven successful approach to providing services and permanent supportive housing, the integration of a federally qualified, high-quality medical service provider, the project’s lower costs and amount of local funding required, the reliability of other proposed funding sources, the adaptive reuse of an existing available historic building, and the shorter schedule in which the center can begin operations.”

The selection committee also had the respected real estate advisory firm Keyser Marston do an independent review of the soundness of the funding sources for our proposal. The Connections proposal was deemed to be the only proposal that was financially feasible.

We think the selection committee got it exactly right.

Following hundreds of hours of outreach to the community, we know there is a great deal of support for Connections Housing. We also know that there is concern among some of the neighboring businesses that they will be subjected to the same sort of degradation of their neighborhood that East Village experiences now. But this fear is based on a lack of information about how our facility will differ from traditional homeless shelters.

Our approach is about ending homelessness, not just managing it. Our proposal focuses on bringing people in off the street and into housing permanently. The organizations that are part of our team are highly respected and have an outstanding track record of facilities that improve communities. In particular, PATH is highly regarded by business communities throughout Southern California for homeless services that reduce street homelessness and prevent loitering and littering in the surrounding area.

We look forward to getting the green light from the San Diego City Council so we can get to work on the details of making Connections Housing a reality.