Diana Resendiz of the nonprofit service provider Vista Hill hands a bag with food and water to a homeless person in San Diego as part of a new program to feed up to 4,000 unsheltered people facing food challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy the Lucky Duck Foundation.)
SAN DIEGO —
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating new challenges to many homeless people without shelter, the Lucky Duck Foundation and other philanthropists have launched a countywide effort to bring food and water to anyone living in encampments, sidewalks, vehicles or other outdoor places.
“This is a life or death situation for the unsheltered homeless,” said Lucky Duck Foundation board member Dan Shea, co-founder of the Tuesday Group, which is made up of local business and civic leaders who meet weekly to discuss ways to help homeless people.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is one of the program’s partners and is preparing packages of food and water at the East Mesa Re-entry Facility, where about 15,000 meals are prepared each day for inmates.
The drive was launched May 27, and meals and water packed at the facility are delivered to homeless outreach workers who use maps and data from the Regional Task Force on the Homeless to help find people in need.
“We have one of the largest unsheltered populations in the nation, and in this time of the pandemic, our unsheltered population is not able to have their basic needs met,” said Regional Task Force on the Homeless CEO Tamera Kohler. “Having our outreach teams being able to provide food and water right now, along with support services to ultimately help get people sheltered, is life-saving.”
Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit San Diego County earlier this year, service providers have reported that people living without shelter are having challenges finding food. Many church groups and community members who used to feed homeless people have stopped their outreach, and some large organized weekly feedings also have stopped over the past few months.
John Brady, director of advocacy and operations for the Voices of Our City homeless choir, said the outbreak also left hungry people who used to find food in trash bins behind restaurants that have been closed for more than two months.
The choir is working with Living Waters Church of the Nazarene in downtown San Diego on a new lunch program each day except Wednesdays and Fridays and it has expanded its food services program to deliver meals to more than 120 households. Brady said the program used to deliver 300 to 500 pounds of food each Friday and now delivers up to 5,000 pounds.
Father Joe’s Villages also has responded by opening its breakfast program to non-clients and by starting regular feedings at two new locations outside its main downtown campus.
Even with those efforts, many of the 4,000 unsheltered people throughout the county may face food challenges because they are far from downtown service providers that continue to provide meals.
“People experiencing homelessness are especially isolated and vulnerable now, where many do not have access to the most basic human needs,” Shea said.
The Lucky Duck Foundation is a philanthropic group founded by Pat and Stephanie Kilkenny and is focused on helping San Diego’s homeless population. The foundation recently funded coronavirus testing at the homeless shelter operated at the Convention Center.
The countywide meals program is funded in part through a $500,000 donation from Gwendolyn Sontheim. Partners include the Aqualia International Foundation, LTD, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and multiple homeless outreach teams.
“On any given day, there are almost 4,000 people unsheltered and trying to survive on the streets of San Diego County without the most basic physiological needs being met,” Sontheim said about her donation. “By providing food, water and basic services, this collaboration will save lives. I am very proud that our community is coming together to make a very real difference in the lives of those who are suffering,”
San Diego Gas & Electric, the Danna Foundation, the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation, Bank of America and an anonymous donor also are supporting the food program.
The food is distributed by outreach teams from the Alpha Project, McAlister, HomeStart, Crisis House, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Vista Hill, and Veteran’s Villages of San Diego.
Other service providers interested in participating should contact the Lucky Duck Foundation at email@example.com. Donations to the program can be made at https://www.luckyduckfoundation.org/provide-food-and-water/.