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Frequently Asked Questions

What are Safe Harbors? 

Safe Harbors are churches, individuals, and organizations that provide temporary emergency shelter for refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers. Our priority is keeping mothers and children safely together. Safe Harbors Network is a coalition of donors and providers of safe places for vulnerable populations. It is called “sanctuary lite” because nearly any congregation or individual can be involved in some way. It is an expansion of Christ Ministry Center’s GateWAY Loft.

What is The Loft?

The Loft is one of only nine immigrant welcoming shelters along the entire US/Mexico border, and the only one in Southern California. We are located in the Christ Ministry Center. We are only zoned for six beds of transitional housing, but we get daily requests from immigration authorities to provide temporary emergency shelter for migrants in detention and we do not want to turn anyone away. NOTE: Our emergency shelter is not transitional housing.

What types of help do you need?

Donation of items such as toiletries; diapers (all sizes, non-perishable food, water, towels and washcloths, baby clothes, shoes, disposable cups, plates and cutlery, napkins, trash bags)
Financial contributions including sponsoring a bed and/or one-time or monthly donations; Hosting a refugee; which means offering a space (bed) for one or more refugee(s)
Volunteering for our organization including administrative support and other needs

Are donations tax deductible?

Yes, we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.


Are all the people you support legal immigrants?

All hosts will host a person with documentation. All hosted persons were referred to us by ICE directly.


Am I at risk, or is the person I am hosting at risk, of immigration authorities coming to my house in the middle of the night and taking the people away that I am hosting?

No, we work directly with immigration authorities. Each of the hosted people have documentation and are here legally. If they have a court proceeding wherein it is determined they must be deported, they will no longer be hosted by you and they will be defended by the attorneys we work with, so they won't be deported.

If the person/people I host runaway, am I personally liable?

No, Safe Harbors Network is responsible as their "sponsor". Immigration authorities work directly with us and brings us people they expect to not be a flight risk. At the same time, it does rarely happen, but Safe Harbors Network is responsible, not the host. If this occurs, report it to CMC immediately and CMC will report it to the immigration authorities.


What are my financial obligations as a host?

You need to provide safe housing- a bed, shower, food pantry, and basic necessities (such as toiletries, diapers, and clothes). However, we understand that the costs can be a lot for some people to absorb and we have a pantry and supplies that you are welcome to use to supplement your contribution.

How long is my commitment?

That is up to you. The normal stay is two weeks to two months. We appreciate any help you can provide. Sometimes people commit to two weeks and the person does not need a full two weeks of shelter. Other times, things like work permits take a long time to get and there are delays. Sometimes the host and refugee are not a good match, and you can bring them back if that occurs. The people you are hosting want to move on with their lives but need that gap bridged.


If I commit to two weeks, what happens to the person I have hosted after that?

They will be placed with another host. Also, you will have an option to extend your commitment if you wish.


If I want to stop hosting before the end of my original time commitment, what happens?

We will remove the refugee you are hosting at any time you wish, irrespective of your original time commitment and they will be placed with another host, if appropriate. If there is a problem with that refugee specifically, we welcome your input into the situation so that the next host does not face those same problems. These people have been brought to us by immigration authorities because they are expected to be easier to house than other potential refugees. We expect it to work out, but we understand that not every situation is right for everyone.


Do I need to bring the people I host back and forth to the center each day? Can I bring them to the center during the day?

Yes, you can bring them back and forth, but you are not required to do so. That is entirely up to you. We offer classes and community and your hosted family can engage with other refugees during the day at the center or you can integrate them into your daily life or a combination of both. Whatever works for you. The center is available to provide support.


What medical care is available? Is there a specific doctor I need to use?

We have two medical clinics each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays provided by UCSD School of Medicine and Cal State San Marcos School of Nursing . These services are free. In addition, The University of San Diego Hahn School of Nursing works specifically with our refugees. We coordinate with the County Health Department for such services as TB testing.


What if my hosted family experiences a medical emergency or even something like a baby with an ear infection in the middle of the night?

In an emergency, please call 911 and the paramedics will take the person(s) to the appropriate medical facility. They are entitled to emergency medical care. You will not be responsible for any medical expenses incurred. If one becomes ill, but does not need immediate attention, we keep a supply of over-the-counter medications in our pantry. We have several medical professionals who are Safe Harbor volunteers and may be called upon as needed. We work closely with the San Diego County Health Department.


What are the ages of the refugees needing a host?

Young mothers with and without babies and very young children are our largest group.


What about legal issues- court dates?

Someone will manage that and let you know of any court dates and other legal obligations. You can work with our volunteers for transportation and support regarding these issues.


I live far away from the center- are there resources near me?

We hope to have a North County East and North County West center in the future. Right now we have our main center, but the goal is to open two more and those may be closer to your home and will provide the same/similar resources as our main center.


What support will I get as a host?

We will provide personal phone numbers, email addresses, liaisons to work with you, and keep in communication throughout this process to guide and support you as needed. We are new to this. You are new to this. Let us know what you need as we go forward and how we can assist you. We endeavor to put more resources in place as needed.


I want to be very involved with the people I host. Can I post pictures of them interacting with my family on social media? Can I tell my friends and family that I am hosting someone?

If your guests grant permission, you may share their photo and information. But please understand many are running from persecution, and may not want their names, images or location to be shared on social media. Please respect their privacy. You may share with friends and family that you are hosting an immigrant, refugee or asylum seeker, but again, respect their wishes.


Do I need to defend my hosted person in court?

No, pro bono immigration attorneys will handle the legal proceedings as needed. You need to drive them to court or to the center so that we can take them to court. We can work out those arrangements with you.

I only speak English. How can I communicate with the refugees?

We have translation volunteers for most major languages. Also, there are apps for smartphones that do both text and voice translations.

Can you tell me some of the organizations you work with and what they do?

Casa Cornelia provides pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations.


Alliance San Diego is a community empowerment organization that builds coalitions to promote justice and social change.


San Diego Regional Interfaith Collaborative promotes and facilitates cooperation among religious community and related organizations.


Catholic Charities serves people in need and advocates for social justice. Catholic Charities can help find more permanent housing for those who qualify.


California Endowment strives to expand access to affordable, quality health care.


Church World Service is a faith-based organization transforming communities through just and sustainable responses to hunger, poverty, displacement, and disaster.


Immigration authorities, immigration lawyers and Immigration Court


Jewish Family Services


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance- helps communities in times of crisis and catastrophic events.


Red Cross San Diego


San Diego County Health Department


San Diego Food Bank


San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium- a project of Alliance San Diego, supports immigration reform, educating the public and immigrants, stopping practices that target and violate the civil and human rights of immigrants.


San Diego Interfaith Justice Coalition- a project of Alliance San Diego, to empower leaders to engage in collective strategies to lift up shared values and enable persons to achieve their full potential.


Sojourners- seeks to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.


The United Methodist Church and United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) puts faith into action.


The United Methodist Church of Vista, CA (Outreach Grant)

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