If David Ross has your phone number, then it's likely you've gotten a call or message in the last few months with Ross lamenting that his Water Man Check-in Center might be forced to close soon. Known as the "Water Man" because he hands out bottles of water to the homeless, Ross' nonprofit Isaiah Project runs a storage facility (aka the Check-In Center) that currently provides 250 homeless folks with a place to store their things. Modeled after a successful project in L.A., the Check-In Center was the result of a settlement with the city after city workers conducted unannounced clean-ups in East Village. As I wrote in a previous story:
According to several witnesses CityBeat spoke with... at around 11 a.m., police cars and a city trash truck pulled up near God’s Extended Hand, a homeless-services mission located at 16th and Island avenues in East Village. A group of homeless people who normally camped on the sidewalk along Island, near an empty lot, had left their stuff behind—shopping carts, bedrolls, backpacks—to have lunch at the mission. City workers started throwing the items into the truck, witnesses said, where they were then compacted. When people tried to retrieve their stuff, they were told it was too late.
While the city’s municipal code says it’s illegal for personal items to obstruct the public right-of-way and unattended items “whose owner cannot be readily identified are presumed to be abandoned,” the law also says: “Wherever possible, Enforcement Officials shall make a reasonable effort to ascertain whether the unattended personal property or possessions have been abandoned,” and “unattended personal property or possessions that are sanitary and saleable or useable and of a value greater than one hundred dollars ($100) shall be transferred as soon as is practicable to the Chief of Police.”
Police confirmed that no items were turned over.
The settlement included $100,000 to pay for the facility for a year, which is currently housed in a city-owned building. As U-T San Diego reporter Jen Kuhney pointed out, the settlement included language that the city "make its 'best efforts'" to keep the facility open beyond a year, though what "best efforts" meant wasn't defined. Gerry Limpic said that in addition to $10,000 each from Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Todd Gloria, he's confident that the remaining six council members will provide another $30,000 to keep the center open through July (each council office has discretionary money in its budget). (Addendum: Todd Gloria just informed me that the council's pledged $45,000 total, which will keep the Check-In Center open through June 30, 2012. And, according to the report for the Jan. 31 City Council meeting, Faulconer's office actually pledged $12,000. Only Council President Tony Young's office didn't contribute.) The Isaiah Project is committed to raising the remaining $50,000, Limpic said, and a donor, who asked to remain anonymous, has pledged to match donations dollar for dollar. Tonight (Jan. 27), from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Bareback Grill (624 E St., Downtown), Caridad, a nonprofit homeless-outreach organization, has organized a benefit / birthday party for Ross. The suggested donation is $10. More info on the event and how to help the Check-In Center is on Caridad's website.
Limpic said that once enough money's raised to keep the Check-In Center open through 2012, the goal is to open additional storage facilities in East Village and Little Italy. The Check-In Center, located at 917 Ninth Ave., currently has a waiting list of 400 names and turnover is low, Limpic said, between 10 and 20 bins a week, sometimes fewer. A handful of the bins that open up, maybe two or three, he said, are because the person using the bin was able to get a job. It's a benefit above and beyond simply getting homeless folks' possessions out of the public right-of-way.
"There's a certain percentage who want to get off the street and this really gives them the freedom to do that," Limpic said. Bolstering those efforts is the fact that staff at the Check-In Center understand they're in the position to help someone make the first step toward getting off the street.
"Our staff treats people with dignity and respect," Limpic said.