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Grants help San Diego faith groups improve safety

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SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – At the Islamic Center of San Diego in Clairemont Mesa, an armed guard stands outside a locked door. Fences and security cameras surround the building. Bulletproof glass lines the play area.

For Imam Taha Hassane, they are now an integral part of religious practice.

“It’s a very difficult choice, a very difficult decision to make,” said Imam Hassane, when asked how his center balances the desire to be open and welcoming with the need for security following of so many recent deadly shootings.

“Yes, we want to be and look like a welcoming place. Everyone is welcome at any time. But, at the same time, given what is happening in the country, we must do our best to secure and keep our people safe.”

Adding additional layers of security costs money. For this, Hassane and dozens of other religious and secular nonprofits have relied on state and federal grants.

The latest round of “Target Hardening” grants came from the California Office of Emergency Services. In January, they announced 290 recipients of $47.5 million. Winners received up to $200,000 each.

In San Diego alone, 26 locations grossed just over $4.5 million (see list below).

“It’s a mixed blessing,” says Heidi Gantwork, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

“What a sad statement that we need to raise so much money and spend so much money to secure places of worship, preschools and playgrounds.”

Gantwork pointed to a recent study by the Anti-Defamation League that found anti-Semitic attacks had increased 34% across the country and 61% against Jewish institutions.

“If you look at the buffalo shooter manifesto, if you look at Tree of Life, and if you look at Poway right here in San Diego, it’s not, you know, a theoretical thing,” she says. “It’s real and Jewish organizations are being targeted.”

That’s why the Jewish Federation has helped more than a dozen synagogues and Jewish community centers apply for and receive the recent round of Cal-OES funds.

ABC 10News reached out to nearly all of the 26 sites to find out how they would spend the money. Most declined to comment. Their representatives said they did not want to release security information or do anything that would increase their visibility and make them a likely target.

Those who have shared their plans say they will use the money for infrastructure upgrades such as fencing, bulletproof glass, security cameras and more. Some plan to hire armed guards to protect members during programming.

But they also mentioned the need to ensure that any security improvements align with their desire to be a place that invites worship and community.

“It’s tough, but it’s something that needs to be done,” says Pervez Morbin, facilities chair of the Greater San Diego Muslim Community Center. “Basically, all of these events that have happened over the past week make this a serious project.”

With an increase in hate crimes in the United States has come an increase in funding for projects like these. In 2019, Cal-OES distributed $15 million for “Target Hardening.” This number has more than tripled.

The Department of Homeland Security distributed $180 million in 2021 through its “Nonprofit Security Grants Program.” This year, that figure is $250 million. DHS officials say they requested $360 million in the 2023 budget.

Not all the money goes to physical security. The Anti-Defamation League conducts trainings for local faith groups to teach them situational awareness, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques and other “low-cost or no-cost” ways to maintain a safe location. Funding from these grants can be used to pay for training like this.

“We stress the importance of having ushers, hostesses and roving, who are trained to welcome people into the facility, while also evaluating those people,” says ADL’s Matthew Brown.

“If you have a place of worship, you can be targeted. And it behooves you to take certain actions.”

To get Cal-OES grants, nonprofits had to submit detailed plans for how they would spend the money. They also had to get construction bids from at least three different companies. And Cal-OES will audit projects to ensure that none of the funds are being misused.

“We are just doing our best. Whatever is available. Let’s take our precautions,” says Imam Hassane. “And pray. Prayer is very powerful too.”

Here is the full list of San Diego organizations that have received Cal-OES “Target Hardening” grants, along with the dollar amount awarded to each:

  • University Town Chabad Center ($200,000)
  • Oceanside Chabad Center (198 135)
  • Downtown Chabad ($195,300)
  • Christ the King Lutheran Church, Fallbrook ($196,354)
  • Adat Yeshurun ​​Congregation ($200,000)
  • Congregation Beth Am ($200,000)
  • Foothills Christian, El Cajon ($198,000)
  • Friends of Chabad Lubavitch, San Diego ($200,000)
  • Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego ($200,000)
  • Holy Cross Coptic Orthodox Church, Escondido ($200,000)
  • Islamic Center of San Diego ($195,000)
  • Jewish Family Service San Diego ($136,013)
  • Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in San Diego ($200,000)
  • Neighborhood Health Care, El Cajon ($76,282)
  • Ohr Shalom Synagogue ($72,383)
  • Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, Coronado ($157,975)
  • Jewish Academy of San Diego ($105,000)
  • Self Realization Fellowship Church, Encinitas ($129,953)
  • Sonrise Christian Fellowship Church, Fallbrook ($135,000)
  • Village of St. Vincent de Paul, San Diego ($200,000)
  • Adat Shalom Temple, Poway ($200,000)
  • Emanu-El Temple ($200,000)
  • Temple Solel, North San Diego County ($154,533)
  • The Sikh Foundation, Poway ($200,000)
  • Tifereth Israel Synagogue ($150,481)
  • Zoological Society of SD/SDZWA ($200,000)