Spitzer Touts Possible Homeless Shelter Site in Anaheim

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Following years of failure by local officials to find a site for Orange County’s first year-round homeless shelter, county supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer is expressing cautious optimism about a potential site in Anaheim.

Located in a light industrial section of North Anaheim, the site is far from any residential neighborhood and is actually located near a strip club, Spitzer said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, alluding to the fact that other locations have been shot down due to their proximity to schools.

“If you can’t put this shelter a half a block from an all-nude strip club…in an all-commercial area…not near any homes, not near any schools, completely separated from residences by the 91 freeway and the Santa Ana River, then you probably can’t build it anywhere,” Spitzer said.

“I really think it might be ideal,” Spitzer added, urging his colleagues to support negotiations for the property, which is located at 1000 N. Kraemer Pl.

Fullerton City Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald showed up to the supervisors meeting to tout the site, saying it “really brings together multiple cities…so a lot of good can be done there.”

The city councils of both Fullerton and Anaheim are expected to take up resolutions favoring the site at their next meetings.

In Anaheim’s case, the council is slated to also consider whether to chip in financially for the shelter.

Supervisor Michelle Steele said she would support the Anaheim site, but others were noncommittal. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, meanwhile, said she had a different shelter site in mind but wouldn’t be specific, citing possible property negotiations.

She said the location was on the “outskirts” of one of the supervisor’s districts, not near any schools or residential neighborhoods and is “probably not” in the first or third districts.  She declined to identify it further.

Despite the lack of unanimous support for the Anaheim location, supervisors did direct county staff to pursue negotiations for any location that appears promising, while at the same time saying they expect community pushback.

“It’s the same exact arguments, just different people,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

“We just need leadership…We need somebody to step up, be big enough to accept” that arrows are going to go flying, Nelson added.  “I’m ashamed that I haven’t fixed this.”

One faction already upset about a possible Anaheim location is the main lobbying group for homeless at the Santa Ana Civic Center. They remain disappointed that supervisors backed away from a proposed site in Santa Ana.

Several hundred homeless people live at a makeshift encampment outside Civic Center, a situation that has become a symbol of the county’s failure to address the problem.

“The chronically homeless, like the people we have here at the Civic Center…nothing’s been done for these people for a long time,” said Tim Houchen, a spokesman for the Civic Center Roundtable.

The group has proposed a triage center at the Civic Center, Houchen said, with a kiosk where county officials and nonprofits could run an entry program the county has to do in order to not lose millions of dollars in funding.

“Even without the shelter, we can do it right here,” Houchen said, adding that the proposal is slated for discussion at Friday’s meeting of the county Commission to End Homelessness.

The homeless advocacy group has been trying to speak with their county elected representative, First District Supervisor Andrew Do, but their calls haven’t been returned, Houchen said.

Do didn’t return an email Wednesday evening seeking comment.

Orange County is among the few large metropolitan areas in the nation that does not have a permanent, year-round shelter.

The only options now are the current shelters at National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana that only operate from December to April.

The armories program, however, lacks the types of mental health, drug and job placement services that many advocates and officials say are critical for reducing homelessness.

Support for other permanent shelter proposals in recent years wilted in the face of community resistance.

The proposal to buy a building in central Santa Ana was the most recent victim of backlash from local residents and business owners.

Before that, a site in Fullerton was floated as a possibility, but that idea collapsed after a split Fullerton City Council rejected the plan in 2013.

And in 2012, county Supervisor John Moorlach’s effort to turn a shuttered Santa Ana 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.

Funding has already been set aside by the county to buy and run a shelter, with over $6 million for facility costs and $3.6 million per year for operations.

Exactly who would run the shelter has yet to be decided, though it’s likely to involve non-profit providers.

Debate on Wednesday also centered on whether to develop multiple smaller shelters or a single, larger shelter.

“I think, based on the past experience, the communities do not seem to want a large shelter that is in their community,” said Paul Cho of the Illumination Foundation, a non-profit homeless services group.  He suggested that multiple shelters would also allow one to be built in South County.

The county’s current contractor who runs the armories program disagreed.

Larry Haynes, the executive director of Mercy House, said that last year over 2,000 people were served at the two armories for the first time ever.

“The data drives the issue that we need a big response to a big problem,” Haynes said, adding that there are “tremendous efficiencies” that come with larger scale facilities.

Ultimately, supervisors stood by the single shelter approach.

“I think you get the economies of scale” when you have a large shelter, said Bartlett.

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, said a critical component is missing from the debate, which is the need for permanent supportive housing in addition to shelters.

Such housing is in short supply in Orange County but “has been shown to be the most cost effective and the most effective solution” for ending homelessness, said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst with the ACLU of Southern California.

Some of that potential housing supply is already owned by the city of Santa Ana, with many properties acquired by the city through receivership, said Houchen, the homeless lobby group’s spokesman.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Trudy White

    Well said!

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  • Trudy White

    How insulting to the homeless people in this county. While some are criminal or mentally ill, many are veterans and families, or people who work hard and cannot afford the obscene amount of rent here. Are children too delicate to know that this nation sent men and women to fight in an illegal war, and then we abandoned them? Are we going to keep on dehumanizing the poor? The NIMBY slogan of the people in this County’s is what we should be ashamed of. We have tens of thousands of empty buildings in the County, and we keep building more. The pampered hypocrites of the BoS should be fighting the morons in the public. I bet an entire paycheck that not one of them could survive one week, homeless and on the streets.

  • Valkyrie Joos

    We do NOT need more “Shelters” the homeless need homes! The problem is NOT money. In 2009 the president issued, along with hefty grant amounts, a mandate to end homelessness by 2015-17. He combined several HUD programs and funding for supportive services was also considered and funded. The issue is funding a few pet projects and expecting the consumers to respond. It needs to be the other way around.

    The mandate is to reduce barriers and perform meaningful outreach services to those most difficult to house. The reality is the money and services are not getting to the intended consumers. There are grants that we have not even applied for available. It is not a money issue it is a matter of lack of vision and bottlenecking of funds.

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  • Smeagel4T

    SoCal in general has a unfair problem with homelessness, and it’s pretty difficult to figure out what is both morally right and also fair to the taxpayers to do about it.

    The unfair problem stems from the climate. If you find yourself homeless in the US, where would you prefer to be? Yes, there are other options as well. But SoCal is one of the most prominent and best options. It’s a game of margins. SoCal has a big margin of preference over most of the rest of the country, and therefore “tends” (not an absolute) to attract and retain homeless.

    As Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) would have predicted, capitalism is destroying rural America. It is not obligatory to read that as a condemnation of capitalism. It is merely a fact of the normal evolution of capitalism.

    As Adam Smith pointed out in Wealth of Nations, urban centers (“big cities” of Adam Smith’s time) are more “efficient” when it comes to the distribution of goods and services. Therefore urban centers have more goods and services at lower prices than rural areas. This means urban centers have jobs associated with those goods and services which rural areas don’t.

    Rural areas existed, even in Adam Smith’s time, to primarily provide food for urban centers. As food production has become ever-more mechanized with huge decreases in the amount of labor necessary, rural areas are dying. When you have huge machines replacing fields of labor, and those machines becoming increasingly more and more automated, rural areas are dying due to lack of jobs.

    The children of rural families have been over time increasingly relocating to urban centers in search of jobs. When they can’t find a job, they become homeless in the urban center and not back in their rural area in which they were born. The rural area then maligns the urban center for having all these homeless who are, to a large extent, the result of dying rural areas.

    Setting aside only temporarily whether it would be fair, moral, etc, consider the kind of balance of responsibility that would be achieved if every homeless person were relocated back to their place of birth. Or alternately if the place in which a homeless person was born could be charged for providing homeless services to the person where they currently reside.

    In other words, the responsibility for a homeless person would always fall upon the place in which they were born. How might decision making at both the government and social levels change if the burden of responsibility were shifted?

  • Cynthia Ward

    Our resident cynics need to re-read that article and take a hard whack at the underlying message before I write it up…Zenger, you predicted this one at least 6 months ago and I didn’t believe anyone could be so heartless as to shift homeless people to an alternate location for a profit, but gee I guess I was wrong, people really can suck as badly as you claim. I owe David 20 bucks and some of Richard’s scones.

    • David Zenger

      Cynthia, it’s only partially about being heartless or even cynical. It’s really mostly about being intellectually lazy. Ironically, building a permanent facility and investing tons of money is seen a the easiest way to show one’s care and concern, regardless of the efficacy of the final product.

      In my view not enough attention (or virtually none) has been given to the idea of very local focus shelters that can hand out immediate support and close down when the need passes or the population moves elsewhere. If I am wrong, I would love to see the analysis that concludes a 20,000 sf central facility in some remote corner of the County is the wisest investment offering the best results.

      The coldest fact of all is that house-a-crats, politicians and the professional philanthropists like the homeless solution that costs the most and erects a permanent monument to their charitable impulses. Charity, I have to add, that is paid for by the rest of us.

      • Cynthia Ward

        Oh, Mr. Zenger does not recall the conversation we had when that land deal first went down. Cool. I will keep my 20 and the scones, and simply watch this play out. The general theme of that rather cynical world view was that the Karcher property was too valuable for the powers that be to let it be used for a shelter. (freeway exposure, great access from arterials etc.) and that the shelter would be shifted to some God-forsaken spit of land nobody wanted to be on (including the homeless) and one of Pringle’s clients would score the prime real estate between Harbor and Lemon, below market, with some bogus finding of “public benefits” to justify the write-down, written by consultants with a corner office in fantasyland (the fiction-writing arm of government reports department, not the Big F land that hauls in money for Le Mouse)

        David I share your view of mobile or small (read TEMPORARY) field offices, and brought it up during a meeting the other night on best practices for aiding those without homes. While in theory it makes sense, in terms of economy of scale it is unworkable. One central location can bring together one each of the various non-profit and government agencies to “case manage” instead of band aid, based on the model of the Anaheim Family Justice Center where a battered spouse can go to one location, a one-stop-shop if you will, instead of being shuttled from agency to agency. Smaller field offices mean more labor spread over the area, and many of the offices simply cannot spare the people to man (woman) multiple offices, where they can spare one person to hold down the desk at the one-stop support center and make the magic happen for some folks. We have the perfect or ideal vs the do-able, so we take the do-able. It was a very interesting meeting, I wish more of my neighbors who have brought up very real fears for our area could have attended, while the meeting was packed (they had to bring in more chairs) they were largely preaching to the choir with attendees from various support groups but not a lot of general public, certainly no angry mobs screaming against locating help in our own back yards.

        Back to the relocation of the project, I hope that I (and prior to that the cynical Mr. Zenger) are wrong about the motive for shifting the location being about the high value real estate someone else wants, all we can do is watch how this plays out and see who ends up on the Karcher property, unlikely to be someone paying market, and I hope I am wrong, I do not want to live in a place where some would work collaboratively to start from scratch and set the whole project back to zero so a well heeled friend might gain a profitable use from the original intended site, but until something moves forward we have to just watch. They were none too coy about the stop-the-power-plant-hardin-wants-the-land nonsense they ginned up so much panic over, chasing homeless advocates off the land would be a an easy deal for the Smash N Grab crowd.

        • David Zenger

          No, I remember our conversation very well. In fact I was rather amazed that the City would buy the property in the first place for a shelter without interference by PringleCorp. It may very well be that the property provides a gimmer in someone’s eye. The City has just constructed the access drive down to Carl Karcher Way so I suspect we will soon see who develops the property.

          As I understand it, the City actually closed on this land without a definite plan for a homeless shelter. Was it all a ruse that is becoming evident now that another site has been found?

          If this were on the up and up the City would put it on the market and try to recoup its several million dollar expense.expense for no reason.

          You may keep your 20 but I will still be wanting those scones.

  • David Zenger

    It is really disheartening to see the same people making the same mistakes over and over again.

    The idea that a large, permanent facility is even needed, instead of smaller more flexible spaces spread throughout the County – where homeless people actually are – has never even been established. There just seems to be a thoughtless commitment to the idea, as if belief in this notion proves one’s commitment to humankind.

    The asking price for this site is over $4,000,000. Turning the building into a homeless shelter that can be occupied by human beings will cost twice that. In the end you have a real clean, well-lighted place far from places where homeless people are likely to turn up. Of course we would be paying for a bunch of parking spaces nobody needs, but hey, there’s obviously money to burn.

    But it will be far from schools and neighborhoods, and and added bonus there’s a strip club to provide entertainment.

    • Steve W.

      Would spreading smaller shelters around satisfy SB 2 requirements? That’s what’s driving these.

      • David Zenger

        SB 2 requires municipalities to provide opportunity overlay districts/zoning.

  • JoyBear

    Something definitely needs to be done. The Civic Center in Santa Ana is overrun by homeless. We need a place for them to sleep and facilities for them to use instead of doorways and bushes around the civic center. Treat them like human beings and they just might act like human beings.

    I feel terrible for the County workers who have to clean up the feces and garbage ALL AROUND the Civic Center. They do not get paid enough … whatever that amount is.

  • jz

    Why must there be years of discussion of a badly needed OC Homeless residence? There are many sites, not considered, but far from schools. However they are within areas of the county dominated by the upper and middle class white-privileged residents who do not want to see homeless people, as they are mostly of a different race. Make no mistake, this ongoing battle for a homeless residence is not about schools or protecting of children, it is about a white-privileged majority who live in fear of those not like them…and those whom they would rather keep invisible. This is another way that racism manifests itself in a white-privileged dominated geographic area.