A fruitless search for shelter | Woman says search for a shelter bed or tent is a dead end task

Jennifer has been homeless, attending college and working full time since April and has been unsuccessful in finding a shelter bed or city tent.

SAN DIEGO — Jennifer likes to sleep under a streetlight. She prefers to cram into a narrow two-foot space between the base of a streetlight and a cinder block wall near a Grantville fast-food restaurant because she feels safe. She has no pillow and no sleeping bag. Carrying those items would tip her managers and coworkers at the convenience store where she works off to the fact that she is homeless, and has been since April.

It was that month that she was evicted. Jennifer says her roommate stopped paying rent and the landlord kicked them out of their place. 

Ever since, Jennifer has tried to find an apartment but she can't afford the steep rents as well as the $200 a month she pays for her schooling to become a medical technician.

However, like so many of the thousands of homeless people living on San Diego's streets and sidewalks, finding a shelter bed is a full-time job.

"I need a place to rest my head. I need a safe place to shower. I need shelter so I can work, so I can live my life," says Jennifer a few feet from her job and steps away from the light pole where she slept last night. "Everything I've accomplished in the past few months, finishing school, working full time. I don't want to lose that for being homeless."

Since April, Jennifer has stood in line at the Homelessness Response Center at 4:00 a.m. in hopes of getting a shelter bed. She makes sure she is at the front of the line in case one is available. She managed to get a bed once but another person at the shelter threatened her physically and she was forced to leave. Since then, those at the response center have given her the same response every time; no beds. 

Jennifer's experience searching for shelter is in stark contrast to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria's opinion on shelter bed availability. 

During an August press conference, Mayor Gloria said the city has not experienced a time when there were no shelter beds available for people in need such as Jennifer. 

"We haven't experienced that. There are always beds available," said Mayor Gloria.

When CBS 8 asked whether the Mayor still agrees with that statement, his Deputy Director of Communications, Dave Rolland, responded, "The Mayor’s statement speaks for itself: There are always shelter beds available, in addition to space at [the Safe Sleeping Site] 20th and B."

But for Jennifer, who says she has worked tirelessly to get her caseworker to respond to her calls and waited in line for hours at the Homeless Response Center for an empty shelter bed, the statement is not what she has experienced.

"I've been first in line and I haven't been given a bed. And I haven't got it. I've called 211. I've called PATH and they say there's a three-week wait for a case worker. I need help now," said Jennifer.

The Mayor's statement also stands in contrast to numbers that the San Diego Housing Commission and the city provided to CBS 8 through public records requests as well as media inquiries. 

Those numbers show that since the beginning of the year, on average there are 25 total shelter beds available on a daily basis in the city of San Diego for women, men, unaccompanied minors, and transitional youth.

The city spokesperson, however, said those numbers do not include city-run shelters including the Community Harm Reduction Safe Haven Shelter for those with substance abuse issues - where as of last week there were three beds available - or the Seniors Landing Bridge Shelter for homeless seniors - there were six beds available as of September 12 - or the womens shelter the Old Central Library, which is now closed, and finally the 147 tents at the city's Safe Sleeping Site in Golden Hill, which had ten spaces available as of September 12.

As for the tents at the city's Safe Sleeping Site, Jennifer says she has asked to get into one but hasn't had any luck.

"I asked about the tents," said Jennifer. "They told me that you have to have a voucher from a worker or a PATH worker or somebody and then they give you a voucher and they get you in there. I tried to do that and I haven't been able to get a hold of a worker. I have even tried to call the Mayor's Office to see if they can help me. And nothing yet."

Jennifer tells CBS 8 that she is hopeful that her application for a unit at the San Diego Housing Commission-owned Studio 15 apartments will be approved and she can move in there. 

However, she was told she had to wait several weeks for them to process her application. That means more nights out on the sidewalk, in search of a street light to sleep under with only a small blanket to keep her warm.

"I want the help and I'll use the resources and I'll be a success story if I get the help. I just need a little to accomplish the goals that I've set. If I don't then I don't know what I'm going to do."

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