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Rachel’s Promise addresses ‘great unmet need’

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SAN DIEGO — Rachel’s Promise, a new shelter for homeless women in downtown San Diego, represents an expansion of Catholic Charities’ outreach to this vulnerable population.

For almost 39 years, Catholic Charities has operated two similarly named facilities: Rachel’s Women’s Center, a day center located at 759 8th Ave., and Rachel’s Night Shelter, a 35-bed emergency shelter at 830 9th Ave.

In late July, these facilities were joined by Rachel’s Promise (825 7th Ave.), which provides another 40 beds.

The facilities are named after the biblical Rachel, who was the wife of the patriarch Jacob.

Rachel’s Promise fills a need that Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor recognized four years ago when, shortly after becoming executive director of Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego, he took a tour of Rachel’s Women’s Center and Rachel’s Night Shelter.

Pajanor saw more than 100 women at Rachel’s Women’s Center, but only 35 beds at the night shelter. He learned from the staff that most of the women at the day center would be sleeping on the streets that night. Even if given a referral to another homeless shelter, they wouldn’t accept it, because most of them are survivors of trauma and don’t feel safe under the same roof as men.

Rachel’s Promise differs from Rachel’s Night Shelter in a significant way. While residents of the night shelter must vacate the premises during daylight hours, with many of them heading over to the day center until they are ready to sleep, Rachel’s Promise is accessible 24 hours a day.

Antoinette Fallon, director of homeless services with Catholic Charities, said Rachel’s Promise “really fills a gap in our service-delivery system.”

She said that, when Rachel’s Promise opened, some residents of the night shelter who are dealing with serious health challenges chose to relocate there.

“It’s easier to rest when you’re in the same building all day long,” she explained.

Fallon said that several women living at Rachel’s Promise work at night and have to sleep during the day. The 24/7 nature of the new facility makes that possible, too.

At Rachel’s Promise, residents are served breakfast, a light lunch, and dinner every day; they are also able to eat lunch at Rachel’s Women’s Center, which is only about a one-minute walk away. The women have access to showers and laundry services and are also assigned a case manager, who helps them to set goals for a productive future and provides referrals for such things as physical and mental health treatment, substance-abuse recovery, and employment assistance.

“There are as many different reasons people end up unhoused as there are people,” said Fallon. “Everyone’s story is unique.”

As with all of Catholic Charities’ shelters, which include La Posada men’s shelter in Carlsbad, she said everything is geared toward preparing homeless individuals to obtain and maintain permanent housing.

Pajanor said the length of a woman’s stay at Rachel’s Promise depends on how long it takes her to be ready for permanent housing. This might require as little as a week or two, he said, or perhaps as much as two or three months.

He said that people forget that homeless people have a sense of community amongst themselves, both on the streets and in shelters. But upon moving into their own apartment, he said, homeless people often “get kind of a shock, because (now) they are alone.” Catholic Charities seeks to address that by making it known that the women are always welcome to participate in activities at Rachel’s Women’s Center, even after they have acquired permanent housing.

Rachel’s Promise is funded by the City of San Diego and the San Diego Housing Commission and is operated by Catholic Charities.

“We’re very grateful to the city for the opportunity to do this,” Fallon said of operating Rachel’s Promise.

But those serving the homeless continue to have their work cut out for them.

“Even with these 40 additional beds,” she said, “there’s a great unmet need for safe spaces for people who are unhoused.”

The City of San Diego’s “point-in-time” count of the local homeless community, which was conducted last February, reported 2,494 unsheltered homeless individuals — a 9% increase from 2,283 in 2020.

In its own monthly count, the San Diego Downtown Partnership last September counted 800 people in the East Village neighborhood, where Rachel’s Promise is located.

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