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The past two weeks, federal authorities have dropped thousands of asylum seekers at transit stations across the county, leaving service providers and volunteers to scramble to their aid.
Earlier this week, KPBS and other outlets reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection also brought dozens of migrants to Jacumba Hot Springs, about an hour east of downtown, for processing.
Meanwhile, county and city officials are calling for additional federal resources. Some including County Supervisor Jim Desmond have raised concerns about how the burst of migrants could increase homelessness in the region. For now, the impact of the last two weeks of drop-offs on homeless service providers is unclear.
One Thing that Is Clear
Migrants are showing up outside city shelters and the city’s downtown Homelessness Response Center. San Diego Housing Commission data showed that police and homeless service providers made 551 shelter referrals last week. That’s up from an average of 398 referrals the previous 10 weeks. A Housing Commission spokesman cautioned that recently paused intakes at three shelters that have resumed welcoming newcomers and the Labor Day holiday limited referrals in recent prior weeks. The city’s housing agency does not track the immigration status of people referred to shelters.
One provider’s view: Karen Pucci of nonprofit Alpha Project, one of the city’s largest shelter providers, said 56 migrants were staying at its shelters as of Thursday morning but that most had moved in prior to the last two weeks. This likely reflects the limited number of shelter beds available in the city on any given day.
How Migrant Shelters Are Holding Up
Catholic Charities San Diego and the San Diego Rapid Response Network, which operate shelters that house migrants before they move elsewhere, say they have continued to only take in asylum seekers deemed vulnerable by federal authorities.
In a statement, the Rapid Response Network decried the federal government’s approach.
“When DHS leaves people escaping violence and persecution on the streets, people cannot be received with the safety, dignity and respect they deserve,” the group wrote. “SDRRN Migrant Shelter Services’ resources and infrastructure are currently stretched to capacity.”
Catholic Charities CEO Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor said his nonprofit is also doing its best to keep up. He said migrants remain for an average of a day-and-a-half before heading to their next destination with the nonprofit’s help. He’s concerned about what will happen when Catholic Charities moves out of its existing shelter into a smaller one come October – especially if current trends continue. Following the recent closure of one of the nonprofit’s two Imperial County shelters, Catholic Charities’ capacity will be halved due to funding cuts.
“It should not be the burden of the local community to provide all the resources,” Pajanor said.
How Others Are Stepping Up
North County-based Interfaith Community Services and a slew of other community groups are trying to fill the gap. CBS 8 reported on their response to hundreds of people being dropped off in Oceanside.
Interfaith spokesman Daniel Gauthier told Voice of San Diego people being dropped off in Oceanside are largely receiving vouchers to stay at hotels rather than in already-full shelters. Many need significant assistance.
“Lots of people being dropped off have nothing,” Gauthier said. “Some might have a backpack with a change of clothes.”