East County Supervisors Jacob and Desmond split on vote
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Courthouse building, courtesy of San Diego County
January 30, 2019 (San Diego) -- A temporary shelter for migrants will be set up in downtown San Diego at the old county courthouse slated for demolition – not at Camp Barrett, a former youth detention center in East County that was among several sites considered.
By a four to one vote, Supervisors voted to allow Jewish Family Services to lease the courthouse building for one dollar through December 31st. The nonprofit group will reimburse the county for costs to open the migrant shelter and maintain the property near Balba Park on Sixth Avenue, and advised Supervisors that it has already secured funds.
Only newly elected Supervisor Jim Desmond voted no. Desmond, whose district includes Warner Springs and Borrego Springs in East County, objected to the county funding health workers at the facility.
But supporters note that last year’s hepatitis emergency that began among the homeless resulted in far more county resources expended than what preventative steps would have cost.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents most of East County, called the action “the right thing to do.”
Jewish Family Services CEO Michael Hopkins praised Supervisors for stepping up to provide what he calls “proactive solutions to address the humanitarian crisis facing our community,” Times of San Diego reports. He adds that the vote will “help house asylum-seeking families until they can safely travel to their final destinations, and ensure our homeless population does not grow even larger with the addition of migrant families released.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has been dropping off asylum seekers from a caravan of Central American migrants on the streets of San Diego at night with no food, water, funds or resources while they await their asylum hearings.
The migrants had been receiving temporary shelter provided by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of nonprofit groups including Jewish Family Services. Since November, the organization says it has helped over 5,200 migrants.
But the lease on the current location expires February 15th, meaning migrants would be left homeless if a new location was not approved. The average stay at the shelter is only 24 to 48 hours. Many of the migrants merely need time to make travel arrangements to reach family members elsewhere in the U.S.
The measure was introduced by Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Greg Cox.
After December, the courthouse will be torn down to build affording housing, according to a County press release, so another location will need to be found for a shelter if the need continues.
Karim Bouris, executive director of Business for Good San Diego, said: “Supervisors Fletcher and Cox brought forward cost-effective solutions to address a full-blown human and civil rights crisis at our doorstep.”
The Sheriff and District Attorney sent letters urging Supervisors to support a temporary facility downtown to protect migrants from being victimized by human traffickers and to protect public health. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the San Diego City Council also backed the effort. Supervisors also heard testimony from the public, with most favoring the action.
Desmond praised the San Diego Rapid Response Network for its humanitarian efforts, but objected to the county paying for on-site medical professionals to provide care for the migrants—a cost he said could be $4 million. He called for the state and federal governments to cover all costs of the shelter.
The state may soon pick up a substantial share of the shelter’s costs. Assemblyman Todd Gloria has asked for the state to provide $5 million in emergency shelter assistance funding. His request has been approved by the Assembly budget committee.