Nonprofits struggle to house migrants in San Diego

The federal government is dropping off migrant families at Greyhound bus stations throughout San Diego and local humanitarian organizations don’t have enough space or resources to care for them.

On Wednesday, the San Diego Rapid Response Network – a coalition of human rights, service and faith-based organizations – asked for local and regional representatives to help them secure a permanent shelter for these migrant families while calling attention to a GoFundMe campaign to raise $150,000.

“We can no longer do it alone,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The campaign, which started Nov. 15, has raised closed to $90,000.

Since Oct. 25, about 1,700 migrants have gone through the Rapid Response Network’s emergency shelters. Because the coalition doesn’t have a permanent location, they’ve had to move the shelter five times in the last six weeks.

None of the asylum seekers have yet come from a Central American migrant caravan that arrived in Tijuana in November.

The emergency shelter allows families to stay for an average of about 48 hours while they coordinate travel arrangements with relatives and costs about $350,000 a month to maintain, said Chavez-Peterson.

The Rapid Response Network set up the emergency shelter when the federal government announced the end of their “Safe Release” program, which gave migrant families seeking asylum a couple of days to locate friends or family members in the U.S. and finalize travel arrangements.

On the night of Oct. 25, the Rapid Response Network received a phone call on their 24-hour hotline from a person who said they saw a DHS van drop of about 30 migrants at a Greyhound bus station at Commerce and 13th streets in downtown San Diego, Chavez-Peterson said.

Since then, about 200 volunteers spent two weeks visiting Greyhound stations in El Cajon, San Diego and San Ysidro to pick up more asylum-seeking migrant families. Four weeks ago, the federal government began coordinating drop off schedules with the coalition.

But some people still fall through the cracks, shelter representatives said.

“In one instance, there was a mother with I believe a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old that somehow we missed,” Chavez-Peterson said. “She had to spend the night in this alley in San Ysidro and a janitor from the McDonald’s called the hotline.”

Members of the coalition were scheduled to meet with representatives from the city and county of San Diego Wednesday.They are asking for a permanent shelter, at least for the next three months, with enough capacity for 200 people.

The coalition also needs resources to help run the emergency operation, which is where the GoFundMe campaign comes in.

“The money is being used for some staffing, it’s being used to rent porta-potties, it’s being used to pay for some of the security,” Chavez-Peterson said. “Folks are getting a little bit of cash, many are on the bus for three or five days. Most of them are east of the Mississippi.”

If government or civil leaders don’t step up and fund the coalition, hundreds of migrant families will have nowhere to go.

“If the organizations hadn’t stepped in we would’ve had 1,700 people out in the streets of San Diego in the last six weeks,” Chavez-Peterson said.

Contact Gustavo Solis via Email or Twitter

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