I have worked on homelessness issues in Orange County a long time, even before I entered the public arena. I go as far back as knowing Lewis Whitehead, founder of the Orange County Rescue Mission, which was a client of my former C.P.A. firm (see http://www.rescuemission.org/history/). I’ve been an annual donor to the Orange County Rescue Mission for more than three decades. I tried to address the homeless situation in the Civic Center shortly after assuming the position of Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector. The first Board of Supervisors Study Session in 2007 focused on the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. When I became the first Chair of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, I really became immersed in this topic. The Commission worked with all 34 cities to form SB 2 zones, a state mandate to have at least one zone within the city where a homeless shelter would be allowed. When the city of Santa Ana approved their SB 2 zones, I did not attend the city council meeting, but I stayed informed on the process. I did attend the Orange County Planning Commission’s meeting when it approved the SB 2 zones for the unincorporated areas within our County’s borders. When many claimed they were unaware of the process and it caught them by surprise, that made sense. Of course others would not be watching the City Council’s agendas and understanding what was being approved as closely as I have been. But, I don’t believe the goal was to surprise people. This process has been moving along and has been very visible to those of us addressing this need for quite some time (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Homelessness Review — December 19, 2013, MOORLACH UPDATE — Homeless Shelter — October 18, 2013, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Year-Round Emergency Shelter — January 16, 2013).
I am sorry to see that the downtown bus depot was not put into an SB 2 zone by the Santa Ana City Council. Then-City Manager and former Police Chief Paul Walters was a fellow member on the Commission to End Homelessness, and he was not in favor of doing it. I found this odd, as the homeless have been here in the Civic Center longer than I have been working here, that means more than 20 years. In my private-sector days, I found myself in the Santa Ana City Council Chambers more than twenty-five years ago, when the City Council wanted to move the Rescue Mission out of the downtown area. Well, a quarter of a century later, the Rescue Mission has moved to a distant location, but the homeless are still here. Now the current Santa Ana City Council wants to duplicate the strategy. I doubt that it will work this time, either. Consequently, my biggest lament is that the Santa Ana City Council didn’t pursue the bus depot as a temporary shelter for six months to see if it would work successfully with the homeless population, surrounding businesses and governmental offices.
So I’m enjoying tensions. I’m excited that the Santa Ana City Council approved SB 2 zones. I’m disappointed that it did not include the bus depot. I’m excited that the County found a building in an SB 2 zone. I’m sorry that the neighbors are frustrated. I’m excited that everyone wants to establish a year-round homeless shelter. I’m disappointed that those who live near the 1217 E. Normandy Place location do not want it there. I’m excited that the County of Orange followed all of the necessary protocols to fulfill its efforts to establish a year-round homeless shelter. I’m sorry that the process is perceived as secretive (which is the fault of the laws that implemented the process, not the people following that process).
The Voice of OC provides the details of Wednesday evening’s community meeting that was organized and run by local residents. Sometimes it takes a situation like this to get residents involved in local government. It behooves the County and City to do the appropriate education to assure the nearby residents that their fears may be unfounded and that the shelter will be a good neighbor (as all of the other shelters in the County attempt to be). Or perhaps this community has to convince the City Council that the bus depot just may be a more appropriate location for the County’s first year-round shelter. Either way, I’m sure that as this process continues moving forward that adequate notice will be provided to all parties involved and that they will participate in a successful effort to address this critical and longstanding need.
Hundreds Turn Out to Protest Santa Ana Homeless Shelter
By ADAM ELMAHREK Voice of OC
A proposed year-round homeless shelter in Santa Ana’s eastern quarter has triggered opposition from hundreds of residents in the surrounding neighborhoods – some of the most impoverished in Orange County — who say they are already dealing with enough problems.
Over 300 people attended a community forum on the issue Tuesday night at Kennedy Elementary School. Speakers expressed fear that homeless residents would include “sex offenders” who “hide among them,” talked about hypodermic needles from drug use, and even raised the specter of potential serial killers.
But perhaps the most common theme was that these neighborhoods are already battling the challenges of urban poverty, including gang violence, among other problems. Residents say they shouldn’t be expected to also have to carry the burden of housing hundreds of homeless people.
Meanwhile, homeless people and their advocates who showed up at the forum took offense at the residents’ fear and negative stereotypes of homeless people presented at the meeting.
The residents said they weren’t properly notified or consulted before July 15, when the county Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a 23,000 sq. ft. warehouse at 1217 E. Normandy Place. The county’s only community outreach meeting occurred July 2.
“We are a community that deserves justice and consideration… we deserve and demand to be informed about what goes on in our community,” said Dora Lopez, a resident of the Madison Park neighborhood, to applause from the crowd.
“Respect,” whispered an audience member in response to Lopez’s comment.
Orange County is among the few large metropolitan areas in the nation that does not have a permanent, year-round shelter. The county instead relies on the National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana as temporary shelters from December to April.
Other permanent shelter proposals have so far fallen apart in the face of community resistance. A site in Fullerton was floated as a possibility, but that idea collapsed after the Fullerton City Council rejected the plan in a 3-2 vote last year. County supervisors opted not to override the council.
And in 2012, county Supervisor John Moorlach’s plan to turn a shuttered Santa Ana downtown bus depot lost steam after stiff resistance from top city officials. Then-City Manager Paul Walters strongly opposed the site because it was just blocks away from a dense cluster of downtown businesses, including a blossoming restaurants scene.
So far, Santa Ana leaders aren’t offering the same level of resistance to the current plan. But they are offering some rare attention to a community where residents feel a sense of neglect.
Several council members and the city planning director attended the forum, but spokeswoman Tanya Lyon said that the site selection was under the county’s jurisdiction and city officials were only there to listen to community concerns.
The council last year approved zoning to allow homeless shelters in industrial zones by right, but not within 500 feet of residences, parks, child care centers, schools, or within 300 feet of another shelter. A zoning action to allow homeless shelters was required under the state’s 2008 law, SB2.
Residents say the proposed site is a bad idea because several schools – including Kennedy Elementary School – are nearby.
They also said the area’s industrial businesses – including heavy trucks, narrow streets and no sidewalk – make it dangerous not just for current residents but also for the planned influx of homeless people.
They said they want to be compassionate toward homeless people, but that the location wasn’t right.
“It is a mandate. We do have to have a heart,” said Irma Jauregui, president of the Wilshire Square Neighborhood Association.
Yet clearly the biggest concern was the idea that homeless people are generally more prone to be dangerous.
“Having more homeless people would be a little more of a risk toward us,” said Juanita Perez, a recent Century High School graduate.
Members of the group Civic Center Roundtable – a group whose homeless members sleep outside at the Orange County Civic Center – who attended the forum took issue with the assumptions made by the residents.
“I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink… not every homeless person is the same,” said a homeless man who claimed his name was Boston Massachusetts. “I’m just down on my freaking luck.”
Massimo Marini, a former Occupy Santa Ana activist who helped the Civic Center homeless people form their group, said the forum didn’t include room for all stakeholders other than neighborhood residents.
Marini said the residents had engaged in “hate mongering.”
And he criticized the crowd – mostly Latino – of not showing the tolerance and compassion demanded of true Christians.
“A lot of these people go to church,” Marini said. “Jesus Christ needs a place to stay, and you just kicked him out of your house.”
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek
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