In a normal year, right now everyone in the comics industry would be in the throes of final preparation for the annual San Diego Comic Con. Obviously this is not a normal year, and in some ways, it’s nice to have my summer back…although the summer I have involves sheltering in place in a city that is only open in fits and starts, and endangered by a still rampant virus.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the convention center itself – the subject of many a story here over the years – is being put to a very different use as a homeless shelter as part of the city’s Shelter to Home project. The project has overall been a success, giving a safe, sanitary home for more than 1000 homeless, while finding more permanent homes for them. San Diego is among the five cities with the largest homeless populations, with more than 8000 in 2018.
But those of us very familiar with the convention center will feel an odd little nostalgia as we see those old familiar places where we used to scarf down a pretzel while waiting for the Teen Wolf presentation now put to a very different use. The empty concrete halls are a different look from the tumult we’re used to.
The convention center shelter opened on April 1 and houses adult men and women (no kids), intended to keep homeless people from spreading COVID-19 – a successful goal with only six people testing positive, a far, far lower rate than similar shelters around the nation.
San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer released this little music video with a heartwarming story about how idle lifeguards were surprised to find that homeless people are people too. MOW material for sure.
City employees have stepped into new roles during this pandemic. While the beaches were closed, @SDLifeguards were reassigned to help homeless individuals staying at the emergency shelter in the @SDConventionCtr. Here are their experiences: pic.twitter.com/OC6EnhL1Vh
— Kevin Faulconer (@Kevin_Faulconer) May 29, 2020
The SD CC staff is being put to a new use:
"Every day at the San Diego Convention Center… staff work hard to keep our building safe, clean and well-stocked for the benefit of everyone walking through our doors." Read more about the team of people working to keep @SDConventionCtr residents safe: https://t.co/cEo2jVrfkW pic.twitter.com/5VSsnJiq1Q
— Supervisor Nathan Fletcher (@SupFletcher) May 30, 2020
And those overpriced food kiosks we loved to complain about are now feeding a different kind of hungry:
Our food & beverage partner @Centerplate has stepped up to meet a growing need. Over the last 6+ weeks, our on-site team has prepared and served over 140,000 meals to the residents of Operation Shelter to Home.
— San Diego Convention Center (@SDConventionCtr) May 14, 2020
The LA Times has a much longer story about life at the convention center, written by Gary Warth, who has frequently written about the convention center, the convention and other local issues.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that 1,300 people living at the city’s largest homeless shelter — in the San Diego Convention Center — are not going to have a shared experience.
Depending on who you ask, the bathrooms are either horrible or the best part of the shelter. The effort to find people permanent housing is either running smoothly or at a snail’s pace. The days can be tedious or can be pleasant and peaceful.
Despite this, there is good news about the project:
As of Friday, 114 people who had been in the shelter have moved into permanent housing. Of those who have moved out, 51 already had a resource such as a housing voucher when they arrived at the shelter, meaning 63 had found help while at the shelter.
Those 63 were among 600 people at the shelter who have received housing vouchers, rent subsidies or other assistance from the San Diego Housing Commission or the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.
The convention center has proven popular for the homeless as well – unlike other shelters, it’s spacious and clean. Activities for residents include bingo, AA and NA meetings and other support groups. Some residents are also employed to clean up trash around the center.
You should definitely go read the whole story, as it sounds like a successful program that is helping with a very real problem.
If you’re a Comic-Con vet though, the photos will haunt you. And remind us that someday we’ll be back, eating a pretzel and standing in line, waiting for the cast of Supergirl.