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An inside look at San Diego's 2nd safe sleeping site for homeless

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Posted at 1:00 PM, Oct 20, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The City of San Diego will open its second safe sleeping site on Saturday since passing the unsafe camping ordinance over the summer.

The new O Lot Safe Sleeping site is on the edge of Balboa Park, near the Naval Medical Center, and has 400 insulated tents on site that can hold two people each.

It's a temporary site, but is expected to be around for about a year and a half to two years.

"So, the design was to have these platforms up because we learned from our previous site that we had flooding and stuff," said Karina Santos. "We knew that we needed to come up with a better execution on platforms — having weather-safe tents."

Santos is the program manager of Dreams for Change, the organization that serves as boots on the ground at the safe sleeping sites.

They made the necessary improvements for this new site.

"It's a lot more spacious — so it's 8x8. You can actually push all the furniture to one side of the room and kinda utilize this as a common area," said Santos.

There are also showers, laundry facilities, storage space and other resources on site to help those experiencing homelessness.

"The O Lot is an opportunity for many more people who’ve become homeless to work on getting back on their feet in a safe, sanitary environment,” said Mayor Todd Gloria. “I’m grateful to City staff for working around the clock to get the site ready to welcome people in off the streets and get them on a path to permanent housing.”

Santos said every week, people using the safe camping sites are being put into permanent housing.

She said one success story is a couple who has been homeless on and off for 20 years.

"They started meeting with their case manager regularly. They started following all the things I had in place for them. They had not been matched for housing in the 20 years they've been on and off in homelessness and they just got matched last week," said Santos.

The city opened its first safe sleeping site in June, in a parking lot at 20th and B streets in Golden Hill. As of Oct. 20, the site is serving 148 people in 122 tents.

There are three tiers of operation at the O Lot site; Dreams for Change manages two of them, while the Downtown San Diego Partnership oversees the third.

“In the past three months, we learned what it would take to scale this program to serve more vulnerable, unsheltered people who were living on the streets without daily support," said Dreams for Change CEO Teresa Smith. "We look forward to continuing this collaboration with the City and other service providers.”

The city says it is working on setting up a free shuttle service for clients to take them between a designated downtown location and the safe sleeping sites. The goal of that service is to help people access the services they need, run errands or go to work or school.