San Diego Lifeguards Take on a New Role During the Pandemic to Help Homeless Individuals
Ordinarily during this time of year, public beaches would be brimming with people enjoying the sea and sun under the watchful eyes of lifeguards, who are responsible for the safety of beachgoers. However, as with many things this year, the public beach seascape looks different due to closures that follow public safety health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In the City of San Diego, while beaches were closed, lifeguards employed by the city were asked to step into a new role as safety officers at the San Diego Convention Center.
In the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, the convention center events were put on hold and the facility was transformed into an emergency shelter for the homeless population in the region.
During a press conference to announce the opening of the shelter, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said, “The San Diego Convention Center is a centerpiece of San Diego’s economy, and during this pandemic, it will be a centerpiece in our fight against the coronavirus.”
The convention center space has since provided supportive services including health screenings, mental health services, meals, showers, restrooms, and laundry to one of the city’s population of people most vulnerable to COVID-19.
The city lifeguards were brought in to work at the temporary shelter as “line safety officers,” to help maintain a level of safety and hygiene. Working directly with staff and homeless individuals, the lifeguards focused on making sure operations prevented the virus spread by maintaining a clean environment for residents, ensuring everyone practiced physical distancing, and taking individual’s temperatures.
Looking out for the safety of others is inherent to lifeguards, however, during their service at the convention center, they also found inspiration through showing compassion and making connections with the residents.
“We always want to make sure we’re providing the best services that we can. That comes with forming relationships with the people we’re serving,” said San Diego Lifeguard Jake Le Beau. “From this experience one of the main things I would take back to the beach is what I learned in connecting with different people from different backgrounds.”
The lifeguards will eventually return to their posts as the state begins slowly reopening and local beaches allow people greater accessibility. After serving their local homeless community at the convention center, the lifeguards may end up returning to the beach with a broader perspective.
San Diego Lifeguard Jonathan Boisvert said, “Going back to Ocean Beach, it’s like I’m going to have a whole different attitude...it’s something I’m going to carry with me forever.”
This story was featured in the CA Cities Advocate Newsletter on June 3, 2020.