Homeless Shelter Forum Draws Hundreds as Officials Try to Quell Fears

A panorama photo of the crowd at Wednesday's forum.

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

A panorama photo of the crowd at Wednesday's forum.

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Local residents and advocates turned out in force Wednesday to a forum in which officials sought to reassure neighbors concerned about the county’s proposed year-round homeless shelter in Anaheim.

County and city officials used the event, which was held at Eastside Christian Church near the proposed site, to unveil a “public safety plan” that they hope will quell the fears of residents and business owners, who have mounted a well-organized opposition to the proposed site in an industrial area of north Anaheim.

It drew more than 600 people — making it one of the county’s most well-attended public forums in recent years — and featured 93 public speakers, with a majority voicing support for the shelter plan. The supporters included church members, veterans and volunteers who help homeless people.

Orange County is one of the few large metropolitan areas nationwide that does not have a permanent year-round homeless shelter. For years, county officials have tried to push through shelters proposals, such as in Fullerton and Santa Ana, but each time the proposals have been stymied by resident opposition.

However, if Wednesday’s forum is any indication, the tide might be turning, with county supervisors planning to take a final vote in November on purchasing the proposed shelter property.

Many speakers argued that building the shelter is a crucial step to ultimately helping many of Orange County’s thousands of homeless people get off the streets, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars on emergency and police services as well as reducing the number of homeless in local communities.

Father Bill Cao of St. Anthony Claret Church said his Catholic faith “compels us to advocate for the voiceless and most vulnerable in our communities,” adding that he hopes people can “come together for our brothers and sisters in need.”

Yet the forum also showed that significant opposition remains. Dozens of speakers voiced deep concerns about the proposal, particularly about the shelter leading to more homeless people near homes, schools and businesses in the area, as well as higher crime and a reduction in property values. Hundreds of audience members also wore yellow stickers declaring their opposition.

Angie Armenta said she lives near the proposed shelter site, as do her grandchildren, who play at a park two blocks from the Santa Ana riverbed where many of the county’s homeless live.

She said she doesn’t want the drug use “and the Skid Row feeling that this plan will bring to our community.”

In response to such concerns, county and city officials said they spoke with shelter operators across California to understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to public safety.

Their plan’s centerpiece is to an effort to avoid loitering by having homeless people shuttled to and from the shelter from specific pick-up and drop-off sites in other parts of the county.  People who show up to the shelter’s doors would not be allowed in.

That – along with increased police patrols in the area, security guards, remote-control cameras, and a 24/7 hotline to report problems – will ensure that the shelter is a “good neighbor,” officials said.

“There will be no overflow issues,” said Karen Roper, the county’s director of community services. “The way to end homelessness is to get local communities to come together.”

The plan will “maximize public safety while addressing quality of life issues that may arise,” added Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada, describing the plan as creating a “highly functional, safe facility.”

The shelter also would not allow registered sex offenders or felons with open warrants to stay, they said.

Opponents were suspicious, saying previous promises by officials had been broken, and that in some cases police have failed to enforce trespassing by homeless in the Santa Ana River bed and on a resident’s front porch.

Ron Purdy said he lives within a mile of the proposed shelter and has hear commitments from government before.

“And when it goes sideways, the typical answer is ‘we’re sorry,’ ” he said.

One of the county’s panelists, meanwhile, said studies have, in fact, shown that crime tends to decrease — and property values stay flat or increase — in areas around homeless shelters.

“There simply is not the data to indicate that such a location will in fact lower the property values, will increase crime,” or other things that have been said by opponents, said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, which provides housing and services to homeless people.

What data does support is that having a shelter that links homeless people to services “is not only the humane thing to do, but is intelligent business as well,” Haynes added.

County officials said the environmental impact report for the shelter will be available on the county’s planning website in the coming days, followed by a 30-day public review and comment period.

The document would then go to county supervisors for approval in conjunction with purchasing the proposed shelter building, at 1000 N. Kraemer Blvd. in Anaheim.  That meeting is expected in November.

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

  • Michael Chew

    I feel that the number of those in support and those opposed were equally split at the meeting. The difference in these groups is that the reported “majority” voicing “support” for the DO NOT LIVE in the area next to the shelter and instead were site were charities, churches, and homeless advocacy groups from around the county . This was supposed to be a community meeting to address the questions and concerns of those living in the immediate area around the proposed site. Our community feels that the meeting was hijacked and that our voices of were effectively silenced by those pushing the homeless agenda. We are still wondering when we will get a true meeting for the community with the officials that “have a plan” and answers to our concerns. Relegating people whose families, homes, and businesses that will be impacted to 30 seconds is unconscionable.

    Couple of points worth noting. North Orange (RIverdale Area) and the Rio Vista neighborhoods are the closest to the proposed site. However, according the the Anaheim PD Chief, Anaheim is “working with” the Orange PD to effectively address the community concerns. What he didn’t share is that the Orange Police Department is down 17 officers due to attrition. When Anaheim PD states that it will enforce a 1 mile radius “No Loitering” policy how can Orange do this without additional resources? Also, where was the Orange County Sheriff’s representative? They are responsible for policing the river bed. Will they enforce a 1-mile radius of “No Loitering / No Camping” along the river bed? The County said that if the shelter creates neighborhood crime, drug use, loitering, camping, etc. problems that they will “change the operator”. This is little comfort to those near the shelter. If the shelter goes sideways we would rather see it closed.

    Lastly, the county has failed miserably addressing the homeless at their front door in the Santa Ana Civic Center. Now all of a sudden they make promises that none of the ills suffered at the Civic Center will occur around the 1000 N. Kraemer Place site. Why should we feel believe them?!?

  • Cynthia Ward

    We are still running Anaheim like a backwoods hick town. basing land use decisions on rumor, innuendo, and personal, political, or financial agendas, instead of substance and credible information that constituents can rely on.

    Land use is pretty straightforward. Determine what you wish to do on the property and have experts create documents showing there will be no impacts or if impacts exist we list how we will mitigate those impacts. Then if locals show up screaming that a new Skittles factory in the area will turn their children rainbow colored by proximity to the food grade dye process, we show them, no, it doesn’t we don’t make these choices on hysteria.

    So why has our government failed to simply outline their model for the shelter, and show us studies of other examples of the same model in similar areas and show the lack of impacts to calm people down? How is such a simple answer MISSED by those in charge? Well much of it is because those in charge seem to have their own agendas, linked more to who is running for which office and who can you do an “in your face” against with specific positioning and who can we extract campaign cash from in order to be the “answer” to a problem government created in the first place!

    FOR ONCE I would like to see the City of Anaheim care as much about their own citizens (the housed and unhoused) as they do about their lobbyist buddies and campaign donors. JUST ONCE, and THIS subject would seem to be a good place to draw that line.

  • David Zenger

    To the Voice: please get in touch with Congressional candidate Brandman and ask him for the real tale behind the Karcher and Kraemer Place sites switcheroo. See if you can get a straight story.

  • David Zenger

    In March 2014 the City of Anaheim purchased a vacant three acre site off Karl Karcher Way for the purpose of a homeless facility. The Council voted unanimously to spend (waste?) $3,112,000 to acquire the property and run utilities to it.

    By the end of the year certain members of the Council decided to abandon that site. The public was NEVER informed why although vague rumors that Jordan Brandman’s pals in the “Colony” – some living miles away – were objecting strenuously.

    Hmm.

    Meanwhile, the “Bettersolutions4Anaheim,” website run by a perpetual mouthpiece for Brandman, Murray, Kring and all things Pringle, offers NO better solution options to the Kraemer Place site – a site presented to the County by his heroes on the City Council. Makes you wonder who is acting in good faith, doesn’t it?

    And yet a irrefutable fact remains: 3 acres of vacant land, already bought and paid for in a location where the homeless already are. I wonder if the so-called “experts” at that forum the other night bothered to share the information that there is currently a homeless encampment right off Lemon Street and the 91 CalTrans right-of-way – maybe three hundred yards from the Karcher site.

    Something really stinks in Anaheim, and it ain’t the homeless.

    • Michael Chew

      The “toady” you refer to happens to be one of my neighbors who lives in the Riverdale neighborhood which will be most impacted by the proposed shelter site.

      • David Zenger

        So go ask your neighbor why he isn’t promoting the Karcher site as a real alternative to the Kraemer Place site.

  • Greg Diamond

    Was there ANY mention at all of the Carl Karcher Way site, which was purchased for this purpose?

    That site as a kind of “shelter” and Kraemer as an “intake facility” makes sense. So does the rest of the county having to kick in money to Anaheim for hosting such facilities if Anaheim has to bear this burden alone.

    • RyanCantor

      Fullerton is ponying up a $500,000 for this shelter.

      Anaheim isn’t alone. It has support from its neighbors. The rest of the county absolutely needs to fund its own shelters, however.

      • David Zenger

        But it’s in Anaheim. So let’s put it in the right place – where the homeless can benefit from it: 3 acres on Karcher Way, up and running in few months.

        • RyanCantor

          I honestly don’t care if it’s Karcher way, next door to a strip club, or on Main Street USA.

          #justdoit

          We’ve waited long enough. It’s time.

          • David Zenger

            Yes, but if it’s vitally important, it’s vitally important to get it right. The Kraemer Place site will create as many logistical problems as it solves. It was chosen by Anaheim’s kleptocrats as an expedient – not because it offered much besides it’s mere existence.

            The Karcher site offers a better, less expensive and much more practical location. And it’s just sitting there.