Just in time for the rainy season, the homeless veterans winter shelter in Midway opened Dec. 13 at 2801 Sports Arena Blvd.
"Ultimately, we want to provide services to veterans; we want to make sure that our veterans are taken care of," said Andre Simpson, program manager for Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD), the organization operating the shelter. The city of San Diego provides the funding.
VVSD is dedicated to extending assistance to needy and homeless veterans of all wars and eras and their families by providing housing, food, clothing, substance abuse recovery and mental health counseling, job training and job search assistance, according to their Web site.
The winter shelter solely for homeless veterans has been in existence for eight years, housing male veterans only. (The city offers two other shelters, one for single adults and one for families.)
Simpson explained that if a homeless veteran has family or a significant other who is also in need, they will refer them to another facility.
Sharon Johnson, a homeless services administrator for the city, explained that the shelter has been at its Midway location for the past three years. The Navy, which owns the site, had negotiated contracts for use on an annual basis during that time; however, this year the city entered into a five-year contract with the Navy.
"When you start talking about letting homeless live on your property, a lot of people are kind of nervous because they think they know what that means," Johnson said. "But they don't really know what it means."
She said a large circus-like tent is set up on the site that can comfortably sleep 150. Veterans at this shelter are offered all regular VVSD services, as well as some legal and medical services, according to Simpson.
"We try to provide these guys an avenue to get off the street and reintegrate back into society," Simpson said. "It's not just three meals a day and a place to stay."
He noted, though, that the success of the program is not judged solely on the services provided but by how many and easily the veterans are accessing them.
Past reports have shown that 500 veterans are served at this location each year. Of the 500 served, 35 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 12 percent have physical disabilities and 50 percent reported having substance abuse dependency, according to Johnson.
"When you're mentally ill or have a physical disability, you self-medicate," Johnson said of the substance-dependent residents, adding that the number is not as large as it may seem.
Simpson explained that the shelter's residents perform all the chores, such as cleaning up after meals and keeping the living area tidy.
VVSD staff members are on site around the clock to provide case management and security, Simpson said.
After the first morning meal and showers at around 8 a.m., the various services offered are available until 5 p.m., when dinner is served. Every evening from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m. the shelter hosts a joint Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. Veterans are then given free time to watch television until 11 p.m., when lights get turned off.
The shelter is funded by city Community Development Block Grants, Emergency Shelter Grants and funding from the San Diego Housing Commission. The shelter cost is approximately $216,000 for 120 days of operation.
The shelter will remain open until April 11, 2007, and is available to homeless veterans across the city of San Diego. There is no limit for length of stay.
For more information, visit www.vvsd.net/index.htm. For more on the city's homeless services visit, www.sandiego.gov/homeless-services/index.shtml.