Central Elementary School in City Heights on Oct. 24, 2022.
Central Elementary School in City Heights on Oct. 24, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

During last week’s marathon meeting about the homeless camping ban – which was eventually passed by the San Diego City Council – city staff presented a strategy to expand shelter capacity. Included was the possibility of using two surplus properties owned by San Diego Unified School District for family shelter and safe parking options – the Old Town Harold J. Ballard Parent Center and the former site of Central Elementary. A district-owned parking lot near the 163 in Linda Vista was also suggested. 

But aside from the locations, details on capacity, timeline and budget were all listed as TBD in the presentation. 

City officials have visited two sites, but it’s unlikely the shelters will be rolled out anytime soon. District and city leaders both say conversations are still in preliminary stages. 

But San Diego Unified board member Richard Barrera is hopeful it could happen sometime this year. He said in the leadup to the camping ban’s passage, the district offered the properties to the city. The locations would be open to all families with children, not just those of San Diego Unified students, Barrera said. 

“This issue affects our district as much as it affects the city government, and we should be able to work together to figure something out,” Barrera said.  

“The great majority of students are not necessarily out on the street, but they don’t have a stable place to live,” he said. “We don’t know how many of those students are with their families in cars, but we certainly know anecdotally that we do have students in that situation.” 

While safe parking could be set up in the lots of all the proposed sites, one novel proposal is the possibility of creating safe camping for families indoors in the classrooms of the old Central Elementary, Barrera said. The district is currently building a new campus for the school adjacent to nearby Wilson Middle.  

Barrera said the old Central Elementary campus would be an ideal location for something like this.  

“Not only is it a pretty big area, but it’s also a school, so it’s got playgrounds and places for kids to spend time,” Barrera said. The potential indoor camping option has the added benefit of already having electricity, bathrooms, lighting and Wi-Fi. 

Barrera said locating family shelters at district-owned property would also allow San Diego Unified to help with other school-related needs like enrollment and transportation to and from school. 

As far as total capacity, Barrera said the “sweet spot” for each site seems to be around 50 to 60 people.  

The district would need to work together with the city to make the spaces official. While the district would license the sites to the city for free, service providers, contracted by the city would do the work of managing the spaces, said Barrera. It will likely take quite some time for the city to iron out licensing and contracting details, at which point the school board would also approve the project.  

Even though these sites would add to the city’s shelter capacity, they wouldn’t be permanent. Long term, the district hopes to redevelop many district-owned properties, including the old Central Elementary location, into affordable housing for employees and families. To Barrera, the lack of local affordable housing is a key driver of the homelessness crisis, and the only real long-term solution is to build more. 

But both in the short and long term, Barrera thinks this still developing city and district collaboration needs to be replicated throughout the region. If every public agency that owned land began to search for areas where affordable housing or shelter options can be created, it may not solve the crisis, but it could make a dent, he said. 

 “This is not just the city or the county of San Diego’s problems to fix,” Barrera said. “We have a responsibility, and we can be part of the solution.” 

Content Bouncing Around My Mind Palace 

  • On Wednesday, San Diego Unified announced its new area superintendent hires. The decision to purge its area superintendents was met with pushback from multiple community members, who were blindsided by the move. The district said they chose to clean the slate because of a recent redesign of the positions. Some stakeholders hoped the district would retain some of the previous area superintendents. Despite that, only one out of five people who applied to keep their jobs managed to get rehired. 
  • From reduced funding due to declining enrollment, inflated costs and the expiration of Covid funds, many California schools are facing budget shortfalls for the first time in years. 

What We’re Writing 

  • From 2016 to August of 2022, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement used a controversial legal tool long criticized by experts to demand information from San Diego County organizations more than 500 times. The tool, called a 1509 summons, is meant to gather information related to illegal imports, duties and customs investigations. Jesse Marx and I found ICE had used the summons to request personal medical information – specifically the Covid vaccination status – of two San Diego State University students. Last month, a group of UC San Diego grad workers disrupted an alumni event at La Jolla’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Upset with the implementation of the university’s historic contract, they took the stage and presented Chancellor Pradeep Khosla with a cardboard sign that read “the most overpaid worker.” Now, the university has levied administrative violations including physical assault against them.   

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at jakob@vosd.org and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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  1. The schools are rated 2/10 and they want to house homeless people on school property? How insane would you need to be to send your kids to school in SD? Where is the article on that.

  2. The lot is not in Linda Vista it is Serra Mesa where we already have 2 safe parking areas. The Door of Hope house’s homeless families already. That too is in Serra Mesa. Why are they all being placed in the same zip code? Time to share with the rest of the city. Please look at other areas particularly because that one is in a residential area and has only one road in and out.

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