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Local men honored for their visionary work with the homeless

RANCHO SANTA FE — Two San Diego County men were recognized by the nonprofit National Conflict Resolution Center for their diligent work to help the homeless. Rancho Santa Fe resident and restaurateur Dan Shea and La Jolla resident and San Diego Padres managing partner Peter Seidler were the recipients of the Philanthropy in Peacemaking award during the 30th annual Peacemaker Awards ceremony on April 7 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina.

Through innovation and inspiration, Shea and Seidler started the discussion about temporary housing industrial tents to care for homeless San Diegans. All based in San Diego, three of The Bridge Shelter tents are run by the Alpha Project, Veteran’s Village and Father Joe’s Village.

It all started about two years ago, when Seidler asked Shea if he could help him with an initiative he had in mind to help the homeless.

“He (Peter) did not understand, since he came to San Diego, how he had heard little about the homelessness publicly, but he was watching it grow on the streets of San Diego,” Shea said. “He thought that there must be something somebody can do about this. We talked about it and agreed that neither one of us knew much about homelessness, so let’s do what we do in our individual businesses and that is by tackling the problem from a fact-based point of view.”

They studied the issue thoroughly. The men spent the first several months dissecting everything and consuming as much information and learning what they could. Shea said their intent was never politically driven.

Even though Seidler and Shea started the discussion and began the process, Shea said in the latter part of the summer in 2016, a group met weekly on Tuesdays regarding helping the homeless. In addition to Seidler and Shea, Pat and Stephanie Kilkenny, Tom Mulvaney, Jeff Martin, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Jones and Dan Herbert continue to meet weekly.

In June 2017, the men decided to partner with the University of San Diego in their endeavor. They collaborated and figured there was a different way to do things.

Shea said that Housing First is the model that has been accepted nationwide by the Federal Government, and really, most professionals.

“Housing First simply says the only way to help people to get off the streets is to build housing for them,” he said. “Economically, it makes sense because it is cheaper to put them in a house then to have them on the street.” He added that emergency services often provide care.

“In San Diego, there is something missing and that is that we cannot build housing fast enough; it will be five to 10 years that some of these people will be left on the streets. We just do not have the ability to address Housing First that way.”

Shea and the collaborative team determined how the stopgap could be The Bridge Shelter tents, costing roughly $800,000 apiece. Two tents were purchased by the weekly Tuesday group, and the other funded by the city of San Diego, Shea said.

The tents help get people off the streets, Shea said, and begin a process of assessment and triage.

The tents provide the most vulnerable homeless people with protection, and for the others they get them back to a situation where they can one day be productive in the community again.

“We cannot wait five to 10 years for housing to be built and then address the situation,” Shea said. “That became the premise, and that became the discussion.”

Shea said new partnerships have formed with other organizations that want to help such as Feeding San Diego, Family Health Centers of California and Helen Woodward Animal Center.

Shea shared Helen Woodward President Mike Arms approached him saying more than 20 percent of the homeless population had pets. These animals mean everything to their owners and they won’t give them up, he said. With that in mind, Helen Woodward now provides vaccines, spay and neutering procedures and food for those pets.

The first Bridge Shelter tent overseen by the Alpha Project went up in early December 2017 on 16th Street and Newton. The second tent in the Midway District run by the Veterans Villages of San Diego opened a couple of weeks later. The third, run by Father Joe’s Village on Commercial Street, began in January.

The three tents are housing and caring for about 700 individuals.

According to Seidler, The Bridge Shelter tents have been tremendously effective and are managed well by Veterans Village, the Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Village.

“The homeless problem in San Diego for the first time has fact-based collaboration from business, political, philanthropic, medical and educational leaders,” he said. “The tents are saving lives, treating homeless folks with various diseases, keeping vulnerable people such as the elderly, battered women and children safe and generally providing ‘best in class’ results within a Housing First strategy. I believe that the success of these Bridge Shelters, where dozens of individuals have already found permanent housing after receiving effective treatment in the tents, has led to an overall sense of optimism and furthered fact-based discussions about San Diego’s next steps.”

Ashely Virtue, director of external relations of the National Conflict Resolution Center headquartered in downtown San Diego, said Seidler and Shea received the award for their inspiring and incredible work for The Bridge Shelter tents.

Virtue visited the Alpha Project site, and the experience was something that stayed with her for days.

“I work downtown, so I encounter many people who are impacted by homelessness every day, and I can honestly say that I approach my walk downtown differently now because of my visit to that tent and the individuals that I encountered,” Virtue said. “I was so moved by their kindness and willingness to speak with us and share their story. All of them had such grateful hearts and words to express to the people who made it possible for them to be there and help to give them a roof over their heads.”