Hepatitis A outbreak prompts San Diego to build giant tents for its homeless

The first of three industrial-sized tents to house San Diego’s homeless opened Friday as part of the city's efforts to contain a hepatitis A outbreak.

About 20 people made their way to bunk beds Friday in a tent that will house 350 single men and women. Two other giant tents will open later this month — one for families and one for veterans.

San Diego turned to tents to get people off the streets and contain a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed 20 people in the past year.

"There's going to be a marked different in what we see on the streets today and what we see at this time next year," said Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project, the nonprofit group that will operate the tents.

"There's going to be a marked different in what we see on the streets today and what we see at this time next year."

— Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project, a group that will operate San Diego's tents for the homeless

More than 3,000 people have been living on San Diego's streets. The city opened a temporary campground in October where 200 people lived in tents. They will now be moved into the new giant tents.

The goal is for residents to not stay longer than 120 days, and for 65 percent of those who leave to move into permanent housing. The city had to divert $6.5 million budgeted for permanent housing to fund the operation of the tents for seven months.

The tents were proposed by business leaders and others who saw the project as a way of creating a safe and humane environment for homeless people living in unsafe conditions and threatened by hepatitis A, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The tents will provide an array of services from mental health care to housing navigators. But the city still faces an acute housing shortage for the poor. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has earmarked more than $80 million in funds to address the problem.

Gemma Librado lives a block away from the tent that opened Friday. She said she is glad to see the streets being cleaned up but she worries it may attract more homeless. Last Sunday, a homeless man high on drugs and with a bleeding hand ran into her apartment when she opened the door and locked himself in the bathroom. She and her 6-year-old son ran out and called police. The man broke things in her bathroom, left bloodstains on the floor and scared her.

"If this makes things more orderly than I support this," she said. "But I'm worried. I don't want this to bring in more homeless to the area and people using drugs. There are families with children around here."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.