Oceanside approves contract with San Diego Rescue Mission to run 50-bed homeless shelter

The San Diego Rescue Mission won a three-year contract Wednesday to operate Oceanside’s first year-round, 50-bed homeless shelter, despite concerns about how the center might treat LGBTQ people.

North County’s LGBTQ Resource Center Director Max Disposti said the contract should include the wording “to ensure that LGBT people who seek protection are not discriminated against.” The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties also raised the issue in an August 3 letter to the city attorney.

“We are the population that experiences the highest levels of violence in the accommodations,” Disposti said at a meeting at which Oceanside City Council approved the contract 4-1. Mayor Esther Sanchez voted no, saying the rescue mission should do more to ensure the rights and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

City Attorney John Mullen said the treaty prohibits discrimination based on “sexual orientation”, which is sufficient to address the problem, and that the rescue mission “has committed itself to taking reasonable precautions on a case-by-case basis”.

Sanchez and Disposti both said they had heard of LGBT people struggling with the San Diego rescue mission. They asked for additional training at the Oceanside shelter.

“We need to use positive practices,” said Disposti, referring to attitudes that support or affirm a person’s gender identity.

Rescue Mission president and CEO Donnie Dee said the facility does not discriminate and additional training is not required.

“I’m not sure this is important to our organization,” said Dee.

“You have my 100 percent commitment that we will operate this facility with excellence,” he said. “Everyone who comes to our facility will feel loved.”

LGBTQ people – and especially transgender people – are more likely to be homeless, according to the ACLU letter. LGBTQ youth are exposed to a disproportionate risk of homelessness. In San Diego County, at least 25 percent of youth homeless identify themselves as LGBTQ.

“We urge the City of Oceanside to consider the needs of its LGBTQ population in developing policies and practices for operating their first government-funded homeless shelter,” the letter said.

Councilor Kori Jensen said she was personally interested in the subject because one of her sons was gay and that she would be looking for trouble at the Oceanside shelter.

“If there is a problem, we will address it at this time,” she said.

The rescue mission was one of two agencies that submitted qualified proposals to operate the shelter, which will be on the campus of a former alternative high school that the town on Oceanside Boulevard east of El Camino Real bought.

The council voted 3-2 in favor of the interfaith community service rescue mission on June 30th, opposed by Sanchez and councilor Ryan Keim. A third proposal for the site was turned down because it was an art school that the city had not applied for.

The facility is considered to be “low-barrier” accommodation as it is easy for most of the homeless to access. The city also calls it the “Apartment Navigation Center” because of efforts to get people into permanent housing.

Residents will be referred to the property by police homelessness services, the city’s public housing authority, or others in the community. Direct walk-ins are not accepted.

The shelter will provide basic services such as meals, showers, washing stations, toilets, laundry facilities and items storage. Attendees can stay up to 30 days, though length of stay is flexible, said Leilani Hines, director of housing and neighborhood services.

Noting that the city also has a sobering center, motel coupon program, and other services for the homeless, Hines called the shelter “the next critical step in meeting the needs of our vulnerable.”

The total city cost for the project, including building renovations, architecture fees, permits, equipment, and other expenses, is approximately $ 4.1 million, and much of that will come from federal funding. The rescue mission will meet approximately $ 1 million in annual operating costs for the three-year contract.

Construction on the shelter is slated to begin in February or March and open in the spring, Hines said.

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