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The city purchased a shuttered Super 8 motel in Egger Highlands to eventually house people enrolled in its San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track program. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Almost four years ago, the city sunk millions of dollars into a rundown South Bay hotel with the goal of temporarily housing repeat misdemeanor offenders and helping them access substance abuse treatment, mental health care and other services.

Now, after a series of setbacks for the so-called San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track program, Lisa Halverstadt reports that the city is preparing to turn the facility that has served as a shelter for homeless families during the pandemic into transitional housing for the S.M.A.R.T. program.

The Palm Avenue hotel, nestled between Imperial Beach and Nestor, has been a core piece of the city’s vision for the program that aims to connect people who have a string of misdemeanor arrests with treatment and housing for up to two years. Thus far, the city reports all of the program’s clients have been homeless.

The program has waned amid the pandemic and the coming expiration of state grants funds tied to Proposition 47, which reduced many drug charges to misdemeanors. 

Halverstadt reports that Mayor Todd Gloria included $1.25 million to keep the diversion program alive – and expand it – in his proposed budget for the year that begins in July. City officials say they expect to spend the next several months helping homeless families secure permanent homes or other accommodations before S.M.A.R.T. clients move in. A Gloria spokesman said the mayor is now assessing the shelter need for populations including homeless families as part of $6.3 million expansion also included in his budget proposal.

San Diego isn’t the only city having a tough time turning a motel into housing for its homeless population. 

In Oceanside, two months after city officials forced homeless residents out of an encampment, put down rocks so they couldn’t return and moved them into hotel rooms, about half left the city program and are back living outside again, as Kayla Jimenez outlines in this week’s edition of the North County Report

Encinitas had similar problems last year when its hotel voucher program ended up returning residents to the streets when it ran out of money. The experience of the North County cities raises a series of questions, Jimenez writes.

Who defines the success of a motel voucher program, and what is a program worth without the services in place to ensure the people who go there stay off the streets in the long term?”

Inewsource revealed that a county-ordered San Diego State review of an initiative to put vulnerable homeless San Diegans and people exposed to coronavirus up in hotels during the pandemic has been delayed by at least a month. The county has told Halverstadt it plans to seek federal emergency fund reimbursements for the program, and to continue offering rooms through the end of the year.

Rape Kit Testing Yields Felony Prosecution

District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Wednesday not only that her office has completed DNA analysis on 2,030 untested sexual assault kits three years after it began sending them to a third-party lab for testing, but also that DNA found in one of the kits has led to new criminal charges.

Larry Gene Rivers, 57, is charged with assaulting a 13-year-old girl in El Cajon in 2014, based on evidence found in a kit that was collected after the incident but not tested until the DA launched a program to test all of the kits in local law enforcement possession.

In all, DNA results from 485 newly tested kits have been added to a national database used to solve cases. Of those, 125 of the profiles corresponded to a suspect who was known to the victim, and 42 belonged to a suspect who was not known to the victim. The DA’s office said it’s continuing to review the results for other potential investigations.

The city of San Diego did not initially send its untested kits for third-party analysis along with the rest of the county’s law enforcement outfits, arguing it wasn’t useful and opting to do so only after Voice of San Diego revealed that SDPD’s crime lab directed analysts to test the backlogged kits less rigorously than it tested kits from active cases. SDPD could finish getting results from its backlogged kits in about a year, but the results coming in now are already resulting in profiles being uploaded into the federal database.

News Roundup

  • Washington-based American Association of University Professors has sanctioned National University and accused the college of “a trinity of egregious violations of widely accepted governance standards” the day after its president abruptly resigned, Times of San Diego reports.
  • KPBS profiled a mutual aid program with dozens of volunteers that delivers items such as food, socks and other essentials to homeless San Diegans. 
  • Residents of Rancho Peñasquitos are pushing the city of San Diego’s independent Redistricting Commission to put the entire community in a single City Council district, the Union-Tribune reports, but Mira Mesa leaders say the request stereotypes their community by saying Mira Mesa has higher crime rates and lower incomes.
  • Authorities on Wednesday ordered some mandatory evacuations from Camp Pendleton as a wildfire spread over 1,000 acres, CBS 8 reports.

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.

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