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New questions over cost of convention center shelter

Posted at 5:14 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 21:31:56-05

SAN DIEGO — When the pandemic hit, hundreds of people living in San Diego's bridge shelters moved into the convention center, where they could spread out.

More than six months later, they're still there. And it's the site of a Coronavirus outbreak.

This month, 115 people living in the convention center tested positive for the the virus, and have moved to county-supplied hotel rooms for isolation.

The remainder of the roughly 800 residents continue to live on site, now a one-stop shop of services including meals, laundry and finding permanent housing.

Bob McElroy's Alpha Project is one of the city contractors serving the shelter.

“It saved hundreds of people's lives, we couldn't have operated in the close proximity that we were in with the bridge shelters and Golden Hall and other facilities so it saved lives and I can't put a cost on that,” McElroy said.

But the cost is now coming under scrutiny.

From April through December, the city budgeted $40 million to the convention center shelter, though most of that is via federal and state funds dedicated to COVID or homelessness. The city is now spending $1.6 million per month to rent the convention center from its own nonprofit.

The Union-Tribune reports that in November, the city spent $210 dollars per person per day for about 900 residents, totaling $5.7 million.

Now with the new outbreak, a group is renewing calls to close the center and place the residents in county-secured hotels subsidized with federal money to stop the spread.

“We could have kept several hotels open and the staff employed and put the money back into the local community,” said activist Shane Parmely.

The county has secured 806 hotel rooms for people to isolate, about a third of which are currently occupied.

In a statement, the city said it will continue to work closely with the county to ensure it is providing the best protection and medical care in accordance with public-health guidelines.

The statement added comparing hotel rate does not account for the full cost of supportive services it provides at the shelter.