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CEO of non-profit discusses last day of County-funded migrant center

SBCS ran the welcome center since Oct. 11, 2023.
Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 21:12:04-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The migrant welcome center in City Heights run by SBCS - a local non-profit - is in the waning hours of the site being open.

“You know there’s always a miracle. But we’re behaving as if today’s the last day we’ll be able to take migrants,” Kathie Lembo, CEO of SBCS, said. “It’s been difficult, and it’s been extremely rewarding, and it’s been so inspirational both for me seeing the people who work here and also the migrants who come here.”

As we reported, the $6 million in funding for the center was approved by yhe County Board of Supervisors with two installments in October and December 2023, respectively.

“People in the know like the county and us and other people who run these kinds of operations totally understand that the money lasts as long as it can last. And it depended on the number of migrants and all of that,” Lembo said.

But Lembo told ABC 10News the money’s been stretched to it’s limit as it helped 81,000 people.

“When the County asked us if we would do this, we gave them a preliminary budget of our estimate was it would cost $1.4 (million) a month,” Lembo said. “So the cost of doing this was never a million dollars a month. So, there is no more funding.”

Some local advocates like Erika Pinheiro with Al Otro Lado wonder how and where the $6 million was spent.

“So, for the level of service being provided there needs to be some accountability around the fact that six million dollars was spent in less than four months,” Pinheiro said.

ABC 10News sat down with Lembo at the welcome center on Thursday, who did go through their recorded expenses from October 11,2023 to January 31, 2024.

Their records show that from the October to January timeline $4,865,271 has been spent operating the center. $1,460,348.85 was spent on personnel expense with $2,851,855.15 was spent in non-personnel expenses which include things like basic and essential supplies for the migrants, bus rentals and travel expense for the migrants.

“One of the big-ticket items is the bus rental, Lembo told ABC 10News.

She said the bus rental was an expense, to the tune of nearly $840,000 dollars, that did see some controversy.

“Border Patrol wouldn’t not drop off here at City Heights. They would only drop off at Iris. So we made a decision for the safety of the migrants and the safety of the staff to work here, that we would do it here,” Lembo said. “So we pick up the migrants at the soft sided tent in Otay Mesa and transport them here.”

ABC 10News did reach out to Customs and Border Protection about what Lembo had told us regarding the bus situation.

The agency said they’ve received out request and will get back to us what they can.