The Tropicana Night Club, a rundown bar on 12th Avenue located next to a blood bank, seems an unlikely harbor for runaway children. The bright yellow and maroon paint is chipping on the outside of the building and vagrants lean up against the walls of the structure next store.
The inside of the Tropicana was recently shelled, and all that remains is some 1940s decor such as a wall of glass bricks and a long, curved bar with an overhead neon light that is the length of the counter.
The Storefront Project, an outreach program for runaway, homeless and throwaway children, has recently begun to renovate the night club into a shelter. Although this tawdry setting seems an ironic place to house minors, Storefront coordinator Dave Logan said it's convenient.
"Being so close to a trolley station is really good, because if a kid calls us we can just tell them to jump on the trolley to get here," he said. "Plus there are only a few places zoned for an emergency shelter, and this area happens to be one of them. Another good point is that it is centrally located. We have found that many runaways stay in Balboa Park and the beach area.
"A bar is an ideal building for what we're going to do, it's already got plumbing, a place for a kitchen and two bathrooms."
Logan said that the 12th Avenue location is a step up from the program's last shelter on 16th Street, which closed in July, 1986, for lack of funds. Runaway children have been left without a safe overnight harbor for over a year.
"I think there was more drug action in that part of town," he said. "So when we'd close in the morning and the kids would leave they were right in the midst of it."
The shelter, which Logan hopes to begin running in October, will open at 8 p.m. and close at 8 a.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday. Friday and Saturday, the doors will open at 10 p.m. and overnighters will have to be out by 8 a.m. In the beginning, the dormitory, which will serve 13-year-olds to 17-year olds, will just provide emergency services such as laundry facilities, clothing, food and counseling. However, it is Logan's hope that with more money earned from fund-raisers the shelter could eventually become a full-service operation, open 24 hours.
Benefits Pay Salaries
In the meantime, the state's Emergency Shelter Program is paying for the Storefront's renovation expenses and for the lease on the building. The group has raised money for staff salaries by holding benefits.
Logan, one of only a few paid counselors, started as a volunteer. He said he got involved to balance out his life.
"I was a businessman before," the 35-year-old said. "I became very wrapped up in the yuppie life style and didn't spend much giving to others. I decided I wanted to get involved. I was trained by some really good counselors, and this has become a full-time job for me.
"I think that what really keeps me going is the thought that some day I will be a role model for some of these kids. Someday when they start getting it together they might remember me, and that makes it all worthwhile."
Logan said that most of the kids who came to stay at the last shelter were drug or alcohol abusers and that most had been abused or neglected.
"It's (drug or alcohol abuse) an easy way for them to shield the pain," he said. "Especially for the ones that are prostituting--it's a lot easier to do that high."
Logan said they refer drug and alcohol abusers to other agencies that are more equipped to deal with these type of problems.
"Although it is the parents that are at the root of most of these kids' problems, it is our legal obligation to call them the second time someone stays at the shelter," he said. "Every kid knows that from the minute they come here."
Logan said in the time he has worked with the Storefront Project he has only had one case in which a father forbade the shelter to keep his daughter overnight and demanded she be turned out in the streets.
"What do you do in a situation like that?" he asked. "It was very late at night, and he wasn't about to come and get her. I finally wound up calling the police and had them keep her overnight."
Limit on Stay
On the other hand, Logan said, kids can't stay indefinitely. The building only has a capacity of 20 people.
"Each person will be evaluated on his or her individual problem," he said. "But we don't want to provide a crash pad with free rent."
According to the coordinator, the Storefront is the only shelter of its kind in San Diego. He said there are two other shelters for homeless and runaway children, one in El Cajon and one in North Park, but they are group homes where kids can stay up to three months. Logan said in some cases they can refer homeless minors to these homes.
The coordinator said he does not know how many runaways to expect when the doors will open for the first time.
"After being out of commission for over a year, I have no idea what the population of homeless kids is out in the streets," Logan said. "I am sure that once they hear about us they'll come because they'll know it's clean and safe."