Picture Credit: Photo by Adriana Heldiz, Voice of San Diego
It has been less than a week since the San Diego Convention center opened its doors to more than 350 residents of two homeless bridge shelters. What might seem like a simple decision to utilize the empty halls as a temporary homeless shelter, was really a thoughtful collaboration between the City, County, Convention Center, Housing Commission, multiple service providers, and spearheaded by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. But, when considering the critical challenge of monitoring and mitigating the effects of COVID-19 within an already compromised population, the physical move into the Convention Center was only the first step.
As agencies and health care workers set up critical social distancing and provide necessary support services, the homeless population in the Convention Center continues to grow. On April 6, 180 clients from Veterans Village San Diego arrived, with the focus on improved monitoring and care in the wake of COVID-19. “In the convention center, our homeless veterans will benefit from more space, medical monitoring, and housing navigators who will help them find a home.” Mayor Faulconer said.
Operation “Shelter to Home”
Operation “Shelter to Home”, the temporary repurposing of the Convention Center to provide support for San Diego’s homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a timely response to an unprecedented public health crisis. The daily virus updates have been difficult to watch, but as our city, country, and world shelter in place, we look forward to positive signs the virus is retreating. One day it will. And when that day comes, the Convention Center will be filled with conferences, trade shows, and thousands of attendees. But it will always be remembered as a once empty public property filled with compassionate caregivers who answered the call for the greater good.
The Museum of Man
On March 31st, Micah D. Parzen, Ph.D., J.D. and CEO of the Museum of Man, posted an open letter to San Diego. It asked a simple question. What can the Museum of Man do to serve a community in crisis? Dr. Parzen hinted at the possibilities – COVID-19 testing center, childcare drop-off for health care workers, food distribution center, homeless support services.
This wasn’t the first time the Museum of Man temporarily closed its doors to the public and opened them to an even greater cause. During WWII the U.S. Navy utilized the museum halls as a hospital to treat sick and wounded veterans. Like the Convention Center, the Museum of Man will one day reopen to host visitors, tours, and workshops. But for now, it stands ready to serve a community in crisis.
“We need to be proactive and act quickly, without the encumbrance of red tape.” Said Dr. Parzen. “Things are moving too fast for us to sit on our hands, especially when we know what’s coming. Other communities are finding innovative ways to skate to where the puck will soon be. We can and must do the same.”
Supporting the Homeless During COVID-19 and Beyond
When the pandemic ends, and it surely will, the temporary resources that energized our recovery will return to their former states. However, the needs of our homeless population will remain. We must repeat the urgency, action, and spirit of creativity that transformed empty spaces into halls of healing. “Skate to where the puck will soon be.” Wise advice indeed.