By Michael Stetz
Monday, January 10, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.
San Diego’s downtown homeless will soon have an indoor place, to store their belongings at least.
The city of San Diego is providing a storage facility for them — a building near the current downtown central library — to help settle a class-action lawsuit filed in December 2009.
The city, along with its police and environmental services department, had been sued after performing aggressive clean-up sweeps in the East Village in which homeless possessions were taken and destroyed.
It’s hoped that the storage facility, with more than 500 bins, will ease the blight. Some streets of the East Village are cluttered with shopping carts, piles of blankets and sleeping bags.
The homeless and their advocates applaud the one-year pilot program because it will provide them a safe and dry haven for their goods. On the streets, it’s hard to protect belongings.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Gerry Limpic of the Isaiah Project, a nonprofit agency that aids the homeless and was a party in the lawsuit. It will run the storage facility.
The city’s earlier sweeps had crossed the line, the lawsuit charged, calling them “ruthlessly executed and mean-spirited.” The homeless were not given proper warning about the efforts, the suit claimed. Some lost medication and personal items in addition to sleeping bags and blankets, keys for their survival.
As another part of the settlement, the city also had to change policy regarding such sweeps by providing more public notice. The San Diego City Council on Tuesday will consider the $150,000 settlement.
Isaiah Project will use the bulk of the money, $100,000, to staff and run the storage center, a building near 9th and Broadway. Managed by the Centre City Development Corp., it had been used as a warehouse by the nonprofit city agency.
Twenty-thousand dollars will go to homeless who can successfully claim damages. (Up to $200 each.) The remaining money — $40,000 — will go to the plaintiff’s lawyers. (The Downtown San Diego Partnership, another defendant, is paying $10,000.)
The city money comes from fees at the city’s garbage facilities, not the general fund.
Robert Scott Dreher, the attorney who represented the homeless in the suit, said the storage center will be “a revolutionary facility for the homeless population and a benefit to everyone concerned: businesses, city administration, police, the homeless and others who live and work downtown.”
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties also was involved in the suit. “Every person is equally protected under the Constitution, the richest and the poorest,” said David Blair-Loy, the chapter’s legal director.
The storage facility is based on a model in Los Angeles, where a similar suit against the Central City East Association, a downtown business improvement district, forced it to make changes in how it cleared away homeless possessions.
That led to this storage concept. In the Los Angeles facility, the homeless get to store their possessions in bins, which are kept in the warehouse. If the homeless want to take or add a possession, they come in and a worker retrieves the bin for them.
They have to renew their bin every seven days, so they don’t neglect to use it. If they don’t come back within 60 days, the possessions are discarded.
The storage facility is filled to capacity, said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Association. It has led to “a marked decrease in the amount of abandoned property on the sidewalks of skid row,” she said.
The San Diego facility is expected to be running by the first of February. Homeless advocates hope that it becomes a permanent facility. This property is slated to be demolished in a year, to make way for an affordable housing project.
But Dreher is confident that once the downtown community sees positive results, the storage facility will be supported and moved to another location should this one no longer be available.
For the homeless, the concept is more than welcome. “People steal our things all the time,” said Beverly Graham, who was with Ron Campbell and Max Schaefer not far from the proposed storage site.
“That’s my bike over there,” Campbell said. “If I didn’t keep my eye on it, it’d be gone in a minute.”
Schaefer had a shopping cart full of his belongings. He has no place else to keep them. “A place like that (a storage facility) would be well worth it,” he said.