"I had my daughter who was 11 years old with me and the American government took her away from me. Yes, I was on the street, but I was home-schooling my daughter."
The Neil Good Day Center for the homeless is planning to move from 299 17th Street, just north of Imperial Avenue, to 14th and Commercial streets, across from the main St. Vincent de Paul campus, according to an application for a use permit filed with Civic San Diego.
1501 Imperial Avenue, San Diego
The center is already operated by St. Vincent de Paul under a contract with the San Diego Housing Commission, with $500,000 a year in funding approved by the city council.
"We think we can do a better job of providing services if it is part of our overall campus," said Bill Bolstad, chief development officer for St. Vincent de Paul Villages. "We can provide more if they're onsite."
The center, currently in a city-owned building on Caltrans-owned land on 17th Street, has been extensively used since at least 1991, when Bob McElroy, president of the Alpha Project, began running it. It was based on the model for a center in Los Angeles.
The 25,000-square-foot building has been plagued with problems, including a leaky roof and chronically broken showers since it opened. St. Vincent de Paul took it over in 2015. The spot has been a magnet for homeless people and for police, who say they field more than a dozen calls a week related to the site.
It was originally set up to include showers, training, and food. But the showers haven't been working for more than a year, Bolstad said. "We've been providing showers onsite at our campus," he said, with ten shower stalls available.
Having the center “on-campus” means more resources and better access to entry-level services, he said. The center will be open at 6 a.m. every day and will close at 4 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends. It will offer laundry and bathroom facilities as well as computer access and mail service. It will also offer safe storage for people's personal belongings, the application states.
Father Joe's hasn't heard any negative comments from its neighbors about consolidating the center with the rest of the campus, Bolstad said.
"We have certainly talked with them and we will continue to listen to their concerns and try to be a good neighbor," he said. According to the application, "Security has been very effective at the current location, and the same security management team will be moving to the proposed new location."
Word that the center may move has spread through the neighborhood, according to a resident of the Hacienda Townhomes on the other side of 17th. She asked not to be identified.
"The homeless have been pushed out of Seaport Village, pushed to the edge of downtown," she said. "Maybe it will make a difference for us, but I don't see where it helps them."
The apartment-dwellers are profoundly affected by the activity around the center, she said. Many of them worry that someone will be hit and killed by the cars speeding to the I-5 freeway ramp just north or speeding off the ramp just south of the center.
"We had the police here Wednesday trying to move people so cars could get on the freeway.” The center has affected how people in the apartments live, she said. "When you cannot go outside on your patio without seeing human feces and people pissing, when your children can't walk to school without passing through there, it's just too much," she said.
"You have the mentally ill, the addicts just being pushed from one place to another." She said she feels a lot of compassion for the homeless, but she also feels for the people who are fortunate enough to have homes.
"What do you do? These children are exposed to some extreme things that take place. They see and are exposed to things where some lives have taken a terrible turn. Mentally ill people talking to themselves and the police coming every day, multiple times every day….
"I treat everyone like ladies and gentlemen," she said. "But when I retire, I'm getting out of here."