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The winter shelter in Barrio Logan opened today at 6:00 a.m. with beds, meals and medical services for at least 200 of the region’s homeless people. The shelter will function as somewhat of a gateway, placing some senior citizens and disabled people in more permanent care programs in the region.

“We’re ready to go,” said Bob McElroy, director of the Alpha Project, which runs the shelter. “It’s the best day of the entire year.”

A collaboration of health services providers will run checkups and medical assessments on all those who will be using the shelter tomorrow and throughout the shelter’s duration. There will also be psychiatric and dental services – and chiropractic adjustments, too.

“You know, sometimes people can’t give money, but they say, ‘I can give my time,’” McElroy said of the health providers.

Sharon Johnson, the city’s homelessness czar, said her impression is that this shelter -especially with the new health services – has a permanence to it.

“This isn’t a one shot, stop in and then go home and say, ‘Didn’t we do a good job?’ This is the rubber meets the road, 166 days,” she said.

Last week we reported that officials from the shelter’s next-door neighbor, a former fuel tank storage site, were meeting with county environmental officers to ensure the safety of the homeless shelter clients while the site was undergoing toxic remediation. Mark McPherson, chief of land and water quality for the county, said Renova Partners, the company in charge of the site cleanup, filed its final version of its impact report today. The company has worked to adjust its plans in light of the operations next door, McPherson said.

“I can’t say enough about the people next door,” McElroy said. He said his experience with Renova had been entirely positive – “their first priority is the homeless people,” he said.

Councilman Ben Hueso, whose district includes Barrio Logan, raised questions about the shelter’s impact on the surrounding community at last week’s city council meeting. His concerns included the environmental and health impacts of the contaminated site and the impact of closing a city street for the winter months, adding hundreds of people to that community.

KELLY BENNETT

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