Sometimes you have to be counter-intuitive. Pursuing a year-round shelter, with a multiple service center (medical assistance, job placement services, et al), is counter-intuitive. But, the city of Stanton has been doing it, with strong encouragement from me, and they received a kind affirmation in the Voice of OC piece below.
Little City Makes Big Strides in Effort to Aid Its Homeless
By DAVID WASHBURN
A sad truth about our relationship with homeless people is the direct correlation between our compassion for them and our distance from them.
When they live far away from us, we cry for the homeless as the ultimate victims of a cruel, winner-take-all society. When they live next door to us, they are a security threat.
It is this reality that so often makes national and regional commissions aimed at combating homelessness — like the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness — unable to achieve their lofty goals.
While the commissions speak of comprehensive solutions and shared responsibility, individual cities are passing laws and taking actions that, in the name of protecting their citizenry, amount to the "criminalization of homelessness," advocates say.
"Of the 250 largest cities in the country over half of them have laws on the books that prevent [homeless people] from conducting activities of daily living," said Neil Donovan, the director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "It started out with one or two communities, then four or five — in the last few years that number has grown exponentially."
And, Donovan said, "it’s not just Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona — It’s San Francisco, it’s Berkeley…this is just a cranky, cranky old world we are living in right now."
In Orange County, this hostility that Donovan speaks of — and its consequences — have at times been on display in dramatic fashion.
Last October, Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever proposed closing down the city’s soup kitchen because he saw it as an "attractive nuisance" that drew homeless people from elsewhere. Three months later a homeless man and woman were found dead from exposure on the street in front of Costa Mesa’s Triangle Square shopping center.
In Santa Ana last winter, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach failed to convince city officials that opening a vacant bus terminal to homeless people was better than forcing them to sleep on the sidewalks in front of it.
And then of course there is Fullerton, where, in July 2011, six police officers made international news by beating to death Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man.
On the flip side of all this is the tiny city of Stanton. In the past two years Stanton has made a 180-degree change in its approach to homeless people, and in doing so, advocates say, provided an example for its far larger and wealthier brethren to live up to.
The catalyst of this turn-around has been the Stanton Multi-Service Resource Center, located across from City Hall, dedicated to serving homeless people.
Developed through a partnership between the city and the Irvine-based Illumination Foundation, the center has helped Stanton reduce its homeless population from more than 600 to less than 400 over the past 18 months, said Mayor David Shawver.
This has happened, Shawver said, because he and other city officials have come to believe that "each city is responsible for the care of its homeless."
As part of this ethic, the city has also stepped up in the realm of transitional housing, a relative rarity in a county that despite a population of more than 3 million, still does not have a year-round emergency homeless shelter.
Around the corner from the Multi-Service Center is the Oak Street Emergency House — which provides transitional housing for up to five families, and the city donated two eight-bedroom units in its Tina Pacific neighborhood at Magnolia and Pacific avenues.
‘I Wanted to Hear Their Stories’
On its face, Stanton is not a place where one would expect to see such a success story.
Sandwiched between Anaheim and Westminster, this city of three-square miles and less than 40,000 people has experienced more than its share of urban ills in recent decades, including a particularly intractable homeless problem.
Most difficult to deal with for Shawver and other city officials was a group of about 18 hardcore homeless people who congregated around the civic center complex.
Shawver talks of children being afraid to walk home from school because they had to pass through this group on the street. A few would even walk into stores and brazenly steal food, and also panhandle in turn lanes.
"It was a really bad situation," Shawver said. "When you think about it, it is not what you’d want for them, or for the city."
Stanton’s response to the situation was, in some respects, right out of the playbook that so many other cities have used — pass laws that increase the restrictions on homeless people.
"We updated sections relating to food handling in public, updated our camping ordinance, made drinking in parks illegal," Said City Manager Jim Box. "We have cracked down very hard."
But the officials also did something else. They went out and talked to the homeless people. "I wanted to hear their stories," Shawver said. "I found that they are real people with real lives…a lot of people don’t look at it that way."
In the midst of all this, Box had met Illumination Foundation CEO Paul Leon, who, in 2007, had co-founded the nonprofit dedicated to reducing the barriers faced by Orange County’s homeless population.
Leon was looking for a city to partner with on a one-stop center for homeless people, a place where they could find transitional housing, receive behavioral health therapy, and even look for a job. He admits that Stanton was not his first choice.
"When we tried to talk to other cities — Costa Mesa, Anaheim — they weren’t interested," Leon said. "They didn’t even listen to us."
The Road to Accountability
Stanton officials, on the other hand, were not only willing to listen to Leon, but, in August 2011, invited representatives of the foundation to a City Council meeting. "Their attitude was we don’t care if we are known as the homeless capital of Orange County if it solves the problem," Leon said.
That’s not to say, however, that there wasn’t resistance to the idea. "We were heavily criticized by residents," Shawver said. They had visions of soup kitchens and being overrun with long lines of homeless people."
But despite the initial push back, the Illumination Foundation Multi-Service Resource Center on opened its doors on Katella Avenue in June of 2012.
The center is not much to look at. It has a plain façade, and inside, the first floor is made up of a TV area, a few computer stations and a cluster of desks. The staff has visions of completely refurbishing the second floor and turning it into a loft. But right now it’s a storage area.
Yet it has been a godsend for Rebecca Talbutt, who was using the center’s computers on a recent weekday morning. It wasn’t long ago that Rebecca and her husband were like so many other couples with young children living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Talbutt’s husband was working as a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings and she was enrolled in an online program to become a medical assistant while also staying at home with her six-year-old son, Gavin, and his three-year-old sister Emily. But then her husband lost his job and neither she nor he had any luck finding a new job.
"I went from having a good life to ‘Oh My God!’" Talbutt said. "Everything just snowballed."
It wasn’t long before they could no longer afford their rent and were living out of a motel. It was, in Talbutt’s words, the "crummiest hotel" and costing them $400 a week.
When the family was on the brink of having to hit the street, Talbutt was put in touch with the Illumination Foundation, which routed them to the center for help.
"We would not be in a good place, if it wasn’t for this center," Talbutt said.
Shawver is quick to point out that people like Talbutt, who only recently became homeless, are relatively easy to help. The difficult cases are the hardcore homeless, mainly men, who do not seem to want any help.
In Stanton, it was the group that congregated around the civic center and its adjacent park. But, Shawver reports, the effort has even been able to reach those folks.
Officials have had to be firm and "hold them accountable," Shawver said, which has included making some arrests. "But if you’re going to hold someone accountable you have to give them an opportunity to change their behavior," he said. "You have to come up with a solution."
Just recently, the last four men who Shawver said were the hardest of hardcore, actually accepted an offer to give the transitional housing a try.
"It filled my heart with joy," he said. "I live in this city and see it all the time — they aren’t bad people, they are just homeless."
Please contact David Washburn directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Debating public employee pension plan reform has been a decade long avocation for me. The OC Register’s Sunday Commentary section provided a “Reader Rebuttal: Law Enforecement” submission by Wayne Quint, Jr., titled “Critic ignores sound reasons for pension change.” The piece was in response to my February 23rd submission (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Governor — February 23, 2013). Mr. Quint used the shallow arguments of: everyone voted for it (as if that makes it the right thing to do); it was a market downturn that caused the unfunding (no—it was the benefit enhancement that did); and Moorlach should be ashamed for being so insensitive (well, the truth bites). With the benefit of time, more of the facts have come to light. Mr. Quint focused on Senate Bill 400 in this edited version of his piece. A recent counter-point by former state Senator Ray Haynes (“This Time It Was My Fault, Really,” Flashreport, April 24, 2011, http://www.flashreport.org/blog/2011/04/24/this-time-it-was-my-fault-really/), explains why Senator Haynes voted for SB 400 and why he deeply regrets his vote. The key point of his piece: “As it left the Senate, SB 400 was an innocuous bill that slightly increased the benefit to the widows and orphans of deceased state and school workers. It was a nothing bill that passed on consent. It was amended in the Assembly on September 10, 1999 to add a substantial increase in the benefits to the CHP (a 3% at 50 benefit) and to state workers (a 2.5% at age 55 benefit), exploding the state’s liability to CalPERS. It passed over to the Senate that same day. When it came back, somehow I missed the change. Looking back now 11 years ago, I don’t know how, but I did not flag that bill for my Republican colleagues. I allowed it to pass on a unanimous roll call. That was a huge mistake.” Last year I had the opportunity to meet and talk with former Governor Gray Davis. He also regrets signing SB 400 (see http://www.comstocksmag.com/Archive/0711_F_Untying-the-Knot.aspx).
Mr. Moorlach is correct that Assemblyman Lou Correa carried the bill that allowed the new retirement formula. But his comments would lead some to believe that Mr. Correa passed the bill all by himself. In fact, the bill passed in 2001 with unanimous votes in the state Assembly (70-0) and Senate (39-0). Gov. Davis then signed the bill into law. In addition, the bill merely allowed local governments to negotiate the benefit if they chose to do so. It did not mandate the benefit for any peace officers, including those employed by Orange County. It is also important to note that neither the county government nor Mr. Moorlach filed any opposition to the bill.
We negotiated with the county regarding the implementation of the new formula. That agreement was implemented by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors with the support of Sheriff Mike Carona and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
The same formula has been implemented in over 300 other jurisdictions in California, with 220 doing so before Orange County. If this was obviously such a bad idea, why has it been accepted by so many local governments?
Mr. Moorlach also states that the taxpayers have to foot the bill for the new retirement formula. He fails to state, however, that the cost to employers for public safety pensions has been little or nothing in many jurisdictions for several years because of the robust economy. The downturn in the economy resulted in reduced earnings by pension systems (like everyone else’s pensions) and decreased Prop. 172 sales tax revenue (a half-cent goes directly to public safety). Those are the factors primarily responsible for increased employer pension costs.
It bears repeating that the Legislature passed the bill unanimously, the governor signed it, Sheriff Carona and District Attorney Rackauckas support it, and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to implement the new formula. Mr. Moorlach should be ashamed to intimate that all these honorable folks, merely trying to maintain top-quality law enforcement in California, supported the new formula as some kind of political payback.
The OC Register’s Sunday Commentary section had an editorial titled “Vallejo teeters on the brink of bankruptcy – Vallejo’s near-bankruptcy offers lessons to Orange County and other localities facing growing public-safety budgets.” Vallejo is a microcosm of the state of California, which is also run by public employee unions.
The East Bay city of Vallejo apparently has struck a deal to keep the city from declaring bankruptcy, but it will take a determined effort by city officials to solve its fiscal problems. Officials there largely blame the real estate downturn for a budget deficit expected to soon hit $21 million, but the real problem is that city officials have long given the muscular police and firefighter unions everything they wanted.
Typically, California cities spend about 50 percent of their budgets on police and fire services – a high number that has escalated after city governments approved "3 percent at 50" pensions that let police and firefighters retire at age 50 with 90 percent or more of their final year’s pay after 30 years of work. But in union-dominated Vallejo, that number is 80 percent. There’s not much money left to maintain infrastructure, pay for libraries, parks and other services.
"The firefighters union in particular has become a lightning rod for blame among bitter local residents, particularly after news hit that 10 different fire department employees received salaries topping $200,000," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. One past effort by a city manager to rein in escalating and outrageous salaries and benefits for police and fire led unions to rent an airplane and fly it around town for several days with a banner that read: "Fire the city manager."
Vallejo is not the first city to reach the fiscal brink because of profligate spending on public safety. The Northern California city of Richmond and the city of San Diego have been mired in similar problems. Keep that in mind as the current Orange County Board of Supervisors pursues various policies to clean up the mess left behind by a previous board that approved a retroactive pension spike for deputies as a reward for past service. The current board is pursuing a lawsuit against the retroactive portion of that spike, which could have statewide implications.
This board also reformed the retiree medical care benefit for county employees. Board Chairman John Moorlach told us the county’s liability for medical care is down to $153 per person after recently passed reforms, whereas in Contra Costa County the figure is $2,536 and in San Francisco it’s $5,645. Clearly, the county’s efforts – despite objections by public-safety unions – are yielding tangible benefits. "Vallejo has been a labor town," said Mr. Moorlach. "The unions run that city, and voila!" His lesson for O.C. and elsewhere: "People have to get in front of this puppy."
And they’ve got to do so even over the howls, barks and squeals of self-interested public-safety unions.
In the Sunday Letters to the Editor section of the OC Register, one writer misunderstood my observation (not my position) as to why a new approach to rating restaurants had not been pursued. The section was titled “A night on the town with the restaurant rating system.” I believe that the writer made great points, even with the mischaracterization.
I noted with interest Director of Environmental Health for the O.C. Health Care Agency Richard Sanchez’s and Supervisor John Moorlach’s positions on why Orange County does not and should not use the restaurant-posted ABC rating approach ["The ABCs of restaurant ratings," Feb. 24]. Sanchez says the information is on the Internet and consumers should make up their own minds. Moorlach believes that posted ratings reflect a nanny state and childish approach.
Most of us don’t carry wireless PCs and Internet-capable phones when we stop for a meal and don’t perform research at home before going out to eat. Health safety information that is only available to the wealthy and PC-savvy is unfair.
How many customers enter a restaurant requesting a law-required inspection report? Rationalizing the job is completed when ratings are made available to the consumer, but making them difficult or embarrassing to obtain is the ultimate of arrogance and disservice.
At voting time I’ll remember that Moorlach believes health violations are not the purview of the state and that informing the public of them, via an easily understood method by all English and non-English speakers, is a childish approach.
Martin Wisckol, in his weekly OC Register “The Buzz” column, addressed a theme that occurred in both of my terms as Board Chair. The column was titled “Nolta and the muzzle – Gadfly sees a special rule passed to limit his talking at supervisors’ meetings.”
If Darrell Nolta talks too much, he gets the muzzle. That’s the new rule imposed for meetings by John Moorlach, chairman of the board of supervisors.
Technically, the rule is for all public speakers. They can now address supervisors on no more than seven agenda items for a total of 20 minutes. Then they have to sit down and shut up.
In practical terms, the rule is tailored for Nolta. He’s the only meeting regular with the zeal to talk that much. It’s unlikely that there is anybody outside of County Hall who is as familiar with the agenda as Nolta. He’s at virtually every meeting and regularly speaks his mind to the board about multiple items.
Moorlach’s new rule – let’s call it the Darrell Nolta Rule – was no exception.
"What are you afraid of Chairman Moorlach? Are you afraid of my legitimate comments?" the Westminster resident asked at Tuesday’s meeting, then complained of the limit. "Why not three? Why not one? Why not 10? Why be arbitrary?"
Moorlach’s memo cites the need for "reducing the amount of time spent by county staff at Board meetings."
Many local governments have their version of Nolta, the gadfly in the ointment. They can enliven things – or they can drag out meetings that are already excruciatingly dull.
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, has spoken out when government needs to be more responsive and open to the public. But he wasn’t so sure Moorlach was wrong in this case.
"There’s a dilemma," he said. "On one hand, you don’t want to limit public input. On the other hand, you don’t want meetings to go on forever. Occasionally, these sorts of people will contribute a nugget, but generally they’re a waste of time."
LA Times columnist Dana Parsons was back on the topic of the day with “Wanted: A fresh face in sheriff’s job.” The column is not only a good account of recent personnel changes, but it comes close to predicting the actual outcome. Here is this prescient piece in full:
Watching the Orange County Sheriff’s Department the last couple years has been like renting the entire series of "The Sopranos" on DVD. Every time you turn around, somebody’s getting whacked.Maybe not in the permanent and gruesome fashion of a Jimmy Bones or a Joe Peeps, but let’s put it this way: The department apparently is a very fluid place to work if you’re in upper management. Don’t hold me to this being a final list, but in the last three years I come up with this body count: a sheriff, an acting sheriff and eight assistant sheriffs, including one who was once an undersheriff. Plus, a lieutenant who’d been a police chief but suddenly found himself out of work after he’d challenged the sheriff in the 2006 election. He disappeared shortly thereafter. That’s the kind of turnover that Paulie Walnuts could appreciate. The latest flurry occurred in the last few days when the acting sheriff and two assistant sheriffs found their situations, uh, altered. The state attorney general’s office reprimanded acting Sheriff Jack Anderson for political lobbying while in uniform. The AG’s office said Anderson broke the law last year when he urged the San Clemente City Council not to endorse the demoted lieutenant for sheriff, but confined its punishment to the public scolding. That may sound like a small potatoes kind of "Sopranos" hit — more like a little roughing up than a ball-peen hammer to the head — but it just goes to show you. Nobody is safe in that department. At least Anderson lived to tell about it and remains on the job. Not as lucky were assistant sheriffs Jo Ann Galisky and Steve Bishop. Galisky, a former undersheriff (the No. 2 position in the department) before being demoted earlier this year, was dismissed by Anderson. Bishop resigned. Both departures Friday were connected to a grand jury investigation of an inmate’s death in the county jail, according to county Supervisor John Moorlach. Although he wasn’t the first to go, you’d have to pin most of this on former top banana Mike Carona. Once appearing to be a prince of a guy, he now looks more and more like the head of a very dysfunctional family with an alarming tendency to get into legal trouble. He got whacked when a federal grand jury indicted him on corruption charges last year, leading to his resignation in January. Carona says he’s innocent and awaits trial. But before that, his underlings already were falling by the wayside. His former No. 2 guy, George Jaramillo, went to jail on local charges and has since pleaded guilty to federal charges. Another top Carona aide, Donald Haidl, has pleaded guilty to federal charges and will be a key witness against Carona if his case goes to trial. Then came Galisky and Bishop, who found themselves under a cloud last week. But you don’t even need to be a Carona insider to vanish. Former Lt. Bill Hunt all but dropped out of sight not long after the election when the victorious Carona busted him down in rank. Three other assistant sheriffs since 2005 avoided a potentially scary fate by resigning on their own. All in all, quite a graveyard for law enforcement, eh? Which makes it all the clearer that the next sheriff must — let’s repeat for emphasis — must come from outside the ranks of former Carona appointees. That means Anderson should be told by the Board of Supervisors that he won’t be the permanent sheriff. Anderson may be undeserving of a "hit," but never has guilt by association meant more than it does in this situation. If "The Sopranos" taught us anything, it’s that sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So it is for Anderson. The supervisors may take months to find a new sheriff. When you think of attractive law enforcement jobs in the country, Orange County sheriff would be pretty high on the list. There can’t possibly be a shortage of high-caliber (oops, bad choice of words) candidates out there. My plea to the supes: Put an end to this carnage. Find a fresh face and let him or her take over this department. Tony Soprano knew how to make bloodletting entertaining. Mike Carona did not.
Jeff Overley of the OC Register continued with topic “Residents debate John Wayne Airport name change – Locals are split on addition of ‘Orange County’ to aviation hub moniker. Some say neither the region nor the late actor deserves the honor.” Readers got into the debate. Here is a segment of the piece:
Any name change would probably require approval by county supervisors, and it’s not clear where they all stand. Supervisors John Moorlach and Chris Norby support the idea, while Pat Bates is opposed. Three calls apiece to the offices of Supervisors Bill Campbell and Janet Nguyen have not been returned.
Gary Sherwin, one of the leading voices in the effort to rename the airport, argues that most people already refer to the airport as "Orange County," so adding a formal geographic reference would be of little consequence and would probably help travelers.
Santa Ana resident Millard Schwartz concurred, saying that when he tried to book a flight from JWA to Honolulu, his travel agent was at a loss, a hiccup that Schwartz attributed to both the lack of a destination in the name as well as the airport’s legal code, SNA.
"They had no clue where Orange County Airport was," Schwartz said. "They said, ‘Santa Ana?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I guess.’"
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