By Sierra Marrero |Assistant Community Editor|
During an investigation exploring the adversaries of San Bernardino’s homeless population, questions have been raised as to why vacant San Bernardino buildings are not renovated into homeless shelters.
“There are so many unused buildings in downtown San Bernardino, I just don’t know why they can’t use them,” says Sierra, a homeless woman who often resides near Seccombe Park.
“If it were up to me, I’d put them to use, like, the Carousel Mall, ain’t nobody using it.”
Sierra explains that it is often hard to get into shelters because there is often a waiting list for people to be approved.
While certain qualifications do exist, there is an agreement among officials who work at homeless shelters that more rooms and housing need to be implemented.
“When you have only two shelters for a homeless population that reaches throughout the entire San Bernardino County, it just is not enough,” said Salvation Army Spokesperson Carl Dameron.
Dameron further mentions that overcrowding is usually an issue because some people may not feel safe, and when the clients do not feel safe, they are on flight or fight mode, and issues between individuals can easily arise.
“[…] Many times my stuff got stolen and I just let it go because some people love to fight,” says Cierra.
“I didn’t feel comfortable being in the housing because it was too many personalities to deal with so I left thinking other places would offer more security, but no.”
An in–depth report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, “No Safe Place,” found that, “In some places, the gap between available space and human need is significant, leaving hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of people with no choice but to struggle for survival in outdoor, public places.”
So why can’t the City of San Bernardino implement more shelters out of the vacant buildings in the inner city of San Bernardino, like the Carousel Mall, as Sierra questioned.
Well, according to the Title V program, which is part of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal government requires that empty or underused properties that it owns be made available to homelessness advocacy organizations.
Ultimately, these buildings can be used if the Department of Health and Human Services approves the application from the owners of the vacant buildings to be made into a shelter in which they would then have 25 days approve the request so the property can be transferred.
Every week, lists of available properties are printed up in the Federal Register.
Non-profit organizations as well as state and local agencies can submit a proposal for how they would like to use the space, as long as it meets the requirement of benefiting to the homeless.
One example of properties used in this way can be seen in a neighboring Inland Empire city, Moreno Valley, in which shelters are established on the March Air Reserve Base.
The process was encouraged through the 1994 Base Closure Act, which allows closed bases to convert unused buildings into homeless housing.
However, monetary implications can occur as Tristia Bauman, Housing Attorney for National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty stated, “The cost of real property can be prohibitive to any homeless service provider.”
With San Bernardino’s recent recession, there has been no mention of the Carousel Mall being used for any type of shelter.
A letter signed in 2015 by Mayor Carey Davis and City Manager Allen Parker was sent to “interested development concerns” in November for the Carousel Mall.
Developers interested in using the Carousel Mall were instructed to write an informal letter of interest, stating who their company was, any qualifications and experiences, and their visions for their intended project.
“I wanted the actual development industry to tell me what the property’s (potential) was, as opposed to telling them, ‘This is the city’s vision ’[…],” said Assistant City Manager Bill Manis.
The letter contained points to advantages of the site, including the Malls accessibility near 215 Freeway and 210 and 10 Freeways, and it’s a location to the sbX bus system and the Metro link system.
Any agreement approved by the city council would take up to a year to settle an agreement for use of the property.
For those concerned about the vacant buildings in Downtown San Bernardino, they can be used if they are submitted for interest and approved to be suitable for homeless advocacy.