Rescue Mission to reopen shelter for women, children
After closing months ago, bathroom improvements were made and rooms rearranged for social distancing
Donnie Dee, president and CEO of the Rescue Mission, stands in Nueva Vida Haven, the emergency shelter for women and children run by the San Diego Rescue Mission. It’s set to open by the weekend.,
By Gary Warth
Four months after fears of the coronavirus led to the San Diego Rescue Mission closing its nightly emergency shelter for women and children, the nonprofit is planning to reopen it this week with improvements and new safety steps to create social distancing.
“Now we have to figure out the long play,” said Paul Armstrong, vice president of programs at the mission. “This isn’t going away. This isn’t going to be just a couple of months. This is the new normal.”
Donnie Dee, president and CEO of the Rescue Mission, said he grew concerned about the safety of people at the shelter known as Nueva Vida Haven after a couple of women became ill and were taken to a hospital by ambulance.
While they didn’t test positive for the coronavirus, the incidents were a wake-up call. The city had similar concerns about the bridge shelters it operated and responded by closing them down and moving hundreds of people into the San Diego Convention Center in April.
The Rescue Mission allowed women and children to stay for 30 nights at the shelter, but each adult had to meet with a case worker to learn about programs that could help them overcome homelessness and other related issues. Any vacant beds also were available for newcomers each night
At the time it closed March 31, the shelter was hosting 37 single women and five women with children. Single women were transferred to a shelter program Father Joe’s Villages was operating at the time in Golden Hall, and women with children later found shelter through the Salvation Army and Door of Hope.
The Rescue Mission also closed its thrift stores and put about 200 people in its Mission Academy residential program in quarantine, restricting them from leaving the building.
“We said the best place to be is here,” Dee said.
Armstrong, who had been chief programs officer at the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, joined the Rescue Mission in May. As weeks passed, he and Dee were troubled by the empty beds in the emergency shelter.
But there was a silver lining. Knowing they would someday reopen Nueva Vida Haven, the mission took advantage of the vacant shelter with a long-needed expansion of the bathrooms, which had only three showers. Women staying at the shelter routinely would miss out on a chance to shower, but were allowed to be first in line the next day.
The expansion will provide enough showers for everybody each night. Dee said the work passed a fire inspection Friday, a final inspection was scheduled for Tuesday, and the shelter is expected to fully reopen by the weekend.
A portion of the shelter already has been reopened. About four weeks ago, the mission repurposed two vacant rooms that had been part of its former transitional housing program. Eight beds were moved into each room as the first step in reopening Nueva Vida Haven, and the mission has worked with the county’s 2-1-1 referral line and San Diego Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Teams to bring in people.
Beds inside the main room have been rearranged so people sleep feet-to-head, reducing the chance of the virus spreading, and a full row of bunk beds will remain empty to increase space.
The 16 beds in the two other rooms will offset the loss of beds in the main room, Armstrong said. To reduce the number of people in the dining room, people from the shelter will be served dinner in two shifts.
Armstrong said enrollment in Mission Academy declined from about 200 to 70 since they stopped taking in new students in March, but students are being accepted again and he expects the academy to be back to its original size soon.