Group plans coastal homeless shelter in Pacific Beach


By Pat Sherman

A nonprofit organization that serves hot meals to the homeless in La Jolla and Ocean Beach is hoping to expand its outreach by opening a comprehensive, emergency and long-term homeless shelter in Pacific Beach.

The shelter would offer three meals a day, plus showers, a place to receive mail and access to medical care, computers and programs that help the homeless gain life skills, enter drug and alcohol recovery programs and find jobs.

For the past several years, the nonprofit organization, So Others May Eat, Inc., has served free dinners to the homeless on Tuesdays at Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla and at Sacred Heart Church of Ocean Beach. The group’s founder, Tresha Souza, said she saw the growing need for a shelter serving San Diego’s beach communities, from Ocean Beach to La Jolla.

Ryan Pocock, associate director for community development at Father Joe’s Villages in downtown San Diego’s East Village, said homeless people in the beach communities tend to stay there, unless they are seeking specific medical or other services downtown.

Souza said she believes homeless people in coastal areas tend to feel safer there than in downtown, where they are more vulnerable to violent attacks. “I don’t believe in my heart of hearts people want to live on the beach,” she said.

Souza is working with a team to explore fundraising strategies to purchase a building at 4275 Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach for the shelter. The 2.89-acre, 43,000-square-foot facility once housed Guy Hill Cadillac.

Souza said the location is ideal because it is not in a residential area, and is convenient for the homeless who reside near San Diego’s beaches.

Sue Adams, who is minister of communications and programs for St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla, is part of the team assembled to help get the project off the ground.

“I’m really impressed at the quality of people who are coming forward to be on our core team,” she said. “This is such a big project. It’s going to take a couple of years to get all the pieces together and raise the funds for the property.”

Souza’s vision includes offering some assisted living space for the elderly, who can in turn help meet the needs of the homeless in a symbiotic relationship. She also hopes to provide beds and resources for teens and young adults that have phased out of the foster care system, and often wind up on the streets.

To help fund the project, Souza plans to open three recycling centers in Pacific Beach, where there are currently none. She hopes this self-sustaining, environmentally-friendly aspect will appeal to financial backers. She said her license to operate the centers should be approved in about a month.

“All the money, less salaries, goes straight back into the organization,” she said of the recycling centers. “That will be a big supporter of the shelter and the organization.”

Though the shelter’s mission is still being worked out, Souza also envisions a possible job sharing program, in which those utilizing the shelter will help local businesses with small projects in exchange for the backing of merchants.

“It’s very possible that it could be a good thing,” Souza said. “People just need to be open to it.”

Amy Gonyeau, chief operating officer of the Alpha Project for the Homeless, which runs a permanent supportive housing program, residential treatment facility and winter shelter, said that from a countywide perspective, homeless advocates are working to establish such “one-stop” housing and service centers for the homeless beyond the core of San Diego, where other homeless populations can access them.

“The City Council has been very vocal about that,” Gonyeau said.

Pocock said Father Joe’s looks forward to hearing more about Souza’s plans.

“Everyone on the housing service end needs to start working together,” he said. “We need to come up with solutions so that we don’t have so many people on the street.”

People wishing to donate their time or professional expertise to the effort should contact Tresha Souza at (858) 414-8281.