SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - Five hundred teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 17 are now in a shelter at the San Diego Convention Center. The young women are seeking asylum and San Diego leaders say they volunteered to use the facility to create the first women’s emergency shelter as a way to help ease overcrowding in other facilities.
The first 500 arrived Saturday evening and another 250 are expected Monday. The maximum capacity will be 1,450 girls.
Saturday morning, Kathie Lembo, the CEO of South Bay Community Services, said the first night went well. She said she didn’t sleep at all, and spent the past day helping welcome the girls and making them feel comfortable.
“These are the politest girls I’ve ever met. I gotta say that,” said Lembo.
She recalled a moment when she was walking a girl to the bathroom in the morning. The girl saw the San Diego sunshine from the large windows of the convention center, and paused in shock. Lembo said they arrived at night, so this was the first time the girl was seeing the beauty of San Diego.
“We need to be proud of San Diego, we need to be proud of our nation that we are taking care of these children. And they are children. They are small, sweet young girls,” she said.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said leaders had about one week to prepare after getting the call that help was needed. With no events at the convention center due to the pandemic, he said it made sense to use the space to help find relief. He added that events are planned at the convention center in August, so it will only be a shelter through mid-July.
Lembo said various community organizations teamed up to create the emergency shelter quickly.
Some of the groups involved include New Alternatives, Casa Familiar, the YMCA, Rady’s Children Hospital, San Diego Youth Services and the San Diego Office of Education.
The Children’s Initiative spent the week purchasing and preparing clothing, shoes, backpacks and supplies for the teens. All of the money spent will be reimbursed by the federal government.
Now that the teens are in San Diego, the focus is on connecting them with family and sponsors in the United States. A majority already have family or sponsors to be connected with.
The San Diego Office of Education will help prepare them.
“They have a migrant education program so it’ll be English. It’ll also be teaching them about American life and that kind of thing. We also have people coming in to do some art stuff, some recreation,” said Lembo.
On average, it’s expected each teen will stay there between 30 and 35 days.
Physical donations are not needed at this time, but South Bay Community Services are collecting monetary donations that will be given to the girls when they leave to help get them on their feet. Donations can be made on the South Bay Community Services Website with a specification that money given is for the migrant children.