Cities Turn to Transitional Storage to Help the Homeless

Cities like San Diego and Vancouver may have discovered the key to helping the homeless help themselves, and it’s as simple as providing free storage.

Relations between the city and its homeless population have been especially strained since autumn 2009, when Environmental Services crushed the belongings of three dozen homeless San Diegans in the back of a garbage truck while they were attending Sunday church.

“When you’re literally homeless, you’re like a turtle that carries everything on his or her back, which can be problematic if you’re walking long distances or trying to work,” Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, told Citylab.com. “There’s always the danger of things being lost, stolen, or thrown away by police officers.”

As a result of the ensuing class-action lawsuit, the city agreed to fund a better solution for dealing with homeless citizens’ belongings.

San Diego’s Transitional Storage Center, launched this year, allows the city’s homeless citizens to store possessions while they go about their daily lives. An earlier incarnation of the storage center in the East Village called Girls Think Tank’s Transitional Store Center almost had to close in 2013 due to lack of funding, an issue the city is now looking to curb.

The new storage center, which is still run by Girls Think Tank, provides over 350 96-gallon bins for homeless citizens to store their possessions in. Bin users can check into their possessions during windows of time before and after the regular work day, with the assistance of two full-time employees.

QUOTE — stats on storage capacity nationwide or possibly a statement about the usefulness/generosity of this program.

Vancouver launched a similar program to strengthen its bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The Cart and Belongings Storage Facility opened in 2009 and operates out of the parking garage of the First United Church and homeless shelter. Residents can check in carts and luggage, or place items in Rubbermaid containers.

“If you carry around your belongings every day, there are just so many things that are not available,” Heather Forbes, communications and resource development coordinator for First United Church, told Citylab.com. “You can’t go into a grocery store, you can’t go into a public washroom, you can’t go into a job interview. Can you imagine, if you brought all your belongings to a job interview? Things open up for you that wouldn’t be possible.”

Many cities on the west coast of the United States are seeing success with traditional storage facilities, and homeless advocates hope that more will follow.

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