San Diego Business Journal

For the last 102 years, Jewish Family Service of San Diego has been providing social services to 40,000 members of the community a year. This includes: mobile food services to homebound older and disabled adults; food assistance to those in crisis; a migrant family shelter for asylum-seekers; and its “Safe Parking Program”, which includes four lots throughout San Diego County that provide safe and legal places for people living in their vehicles to park and sleep overnight.

With the recent coronavirus outbreak, CEO Michael Hopkins said the organization, headquartered in Kearny Mesa and with an operating budget of $32 million, is looking at new ways to continue to provide its services – and possibly add new ones – while maintaining social distancing and also keeping in mind the change in needs of the community as a result of the pandemic.

Responsive to the Community

“We are trying to actively figure out how to not reduce our services and how to operate remotely,” said Hopkins. “It’s sort of a search and rescue mission as we are quickly morphing into what type of services people are going to be looking for and how to be responsive to the community.”

So far, Hopkins said Jewish Family Service of San Diego has aggregated over-the-phone case management sessions and is distributing food on its campus on Balboa Avenue via a drive-through system. Hopkins said the organization will continue to operate its “Safe Parking Program” for the time being, which includes handwashing stations and restrooms as well access to showers to all participants. The city is currently helping with the latter, said Hopkins, since many of the Jewish Family Service of San Diego partners, including YMCA of San Diego County locations, have closed the last few days as a result of the virus.

Living in Cars

He added that there are housing navigators on each of the four lots, located on Balboa Avenue, in Mission Valley and in Encinitas, that help those living in their vehicles – a third of which are 60 years of age or older – figure out housing options, as well.

“We work with families in terms of looking at income and resources,” he said. “About a third of everyone living in cars is over 60, and those are generally harder to house because their income is limited to social security and the cost of housing is most often greater than their resources. A lot of times, we work to reunify them with family members – a brother or sister or grown children. It takes a fair amount of work to have conversations with the sister they stopped talking to ten years ago. But, realistically, they probably won’t be able to rent an apartment or a studio, unless they relocate. The cost of living in San Diego is usually greater than that of the sister in Iowa. Sometimes it means getting them into housing, but sometimes it is about reconnecting them with a family member.”

Additionally, Hopkins said Jewish Family Service of San Diego will continue to deliver 100s of meals a day to seniors throughout the county via its “Foodmobile” program and run its “Migrant Family Shelter”, which provides medical screenings, now including testing for COVID-19, for asylum-seeking families released from federal custody.

“I recently saw that Trump won’t let any more asylum seekers enter the country, so, that could change in the near future,” Hopkins said.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego was founded by a group of women who in 1918 went down to the U.S.-Mexico border to help Jewish immigrants who were stuck there and trying to get into the country, said Hopkins. The sad thing is that, 102 years later, things are not terribly different, he said, adding that the organization still spends a lot of time at the border and is one of the largest immigration service providers in San Diego. With that said, Hopkins said while the program is called Jewish Family Service of San Diego, it doesn’t only focus on the Jewish community.

‘Holistic Approach’

“We partner with individuals of all backgrounds and ultimately try to assist them in creating stable lives and to live independently by taking a holistic approach,” he said. “With every program, whether it is the Safe Parking lots for those unhoused, to working with older adults, we look at whether they are food insecure, whether they have adequate income… we look at housing, employment, mental health. We take a holistic approach to serving these individuals. No one is just unemployed or just homeless or just hungry… what we’ve learned is that when people call for our services… they often call for food but then there are all sorts of other needs.”