What the San Diego Rescue Mission is Doing to Change the State of Homelessness

On Jan. 31, the monthly homelessness census conducted by the Downtown San Diego Partnership reached another record high for the sixth month straight. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, just over 1,900 people were seen on sidewalks, in vehicles, or estimated to be in tents in downtown San Diego. The largest homeless population was in the East Village area, which found 794 people without shelter. 

The San Diego Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization seeking to change the state of homelessness in San Diego County. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, the rescue mission has provided meals, shelter, clothing and job-skills training for people experiencing homelessness since 1955.

Donnie Dee, the president and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission, believes that the state of homelessness in San Diego County can be changed, but first, people have to change the way they think about those experiencing homelessness.

Dee said the non-profit is designed to not only meet the immediate needs of those who come seeking help, but also to address the underlying issues of the heart. The San Diego Rescue Mission aims to restore the lives of people experiencing homelessness, poverty, abuse, or addiction through faith-based emergency services, rehabilitation programs, children’s services, hunger relief efforts and community outreach. 

Carla Vanegas, an employee at the San Diego Rescue Mission, has seen the transformative power of providing hope and resources for those in need first-hand. 18 years ago she was living on the streets of San Diego herself. 

Seven years of her life were taken captive by addiction. Her mother raised her to believe that alcohol was a way of dealing with pain. The more dependent she became on substance abuse, the more things started to unravel. Eventually, her family pushed her away and she could not secure a job.

And then she found out she was pregnant.

Alone, scared, and still prisoner to her addiction, there was no choice but to leave her son under the care of her aunt. She got pregnant again, and three months after delivering that child, she was pregnant again. Her options were exhausted. 

Then someone told her about the San Diego Rescue Mission over 20 years ago.

“Everything was slowly being restored to me,” said Vanegas. “My faith, my life, and I had the restoration of my family. I came in with nothing and left with everything.” 

Now, Vanegas has all three of her children back and works at the San Diego Rescue Mission as a homeless outreach coordinator. She has placed her complete faith in Jesus and credits Him for her lasting sobriety.

“When things got hard, I did not have to revert to the drugs,” said Vanegas. “I just reverted to Jesus.”

The Rescue Mission will be establishing two new shelters in Oceanside and National City by the spring of 2023.

“This is now a county-wide problem, so we are moving from just providing services to building a system,” said Donnie Dee. “Every city needs to have a strategy because we are all impacted by this.” 

Along with plans of expansion, the San Diego Rescue Mission launched a mobile shower ministry in Jan. 2022, which provides a warm shower and clean clothes to people living on the streets every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in three different locations in Oceanside. 

The first year of the program provided 1,138 mobile showers for the homeless, with 39 of those people ending up in the San Diego Rescue Mission’s 12-month residential program, which is their holistic approach to recovery. Students of the 12-month program confront and overcome the problems that led to homelessness in the first place.

The San Diego Rescue Mission also offers emergency shelter for women and children, in a place they call “Nueva Vida Haven.” While San Diego sleeps, the non-profit serves as many as 60 women and children a night for up to 30 days. Each person receives a case management worker, known as their advocate, along with warm clothes and a meal. Children are offered preschool and playground entertainment as the women attend group meetings. According to the San Diego Rescue Mission website, the hope is that women experience healing and gain the necessary tools to get back up on their feet through this program.

“We are excited about our new initiatives,” said Donnie Dee. “We want to be more proactive and more engaging to people living on the streets. We believe that rehabilitation is the key to changing the state of homelessness in the city of San Diego.” 

For more information on what the San Diego Rescue Mission is doing and ways to get involved, visit

Written By: Camden Painton