At first I was moved by the concerns expressed by business people and residents about the planned multi-service homeless shelter. I empathized with the panic that arises in all of us when we worry that we are going to lose our nest egg, endanger our children, deteriorate our neighborhood, and bring criminals and perverts where we live.
But then I listened intently at the public forums at EV Free in Fullerton and Eastside Christian in Anaheim, for hours as caring individuals from the County of Orange, non-profit shelter providers, and law enforcement shared the truth about the planned operation of the shelter. And I realized that the concerns were not founded on fact, they were rooted in fear and unfairly pointed the finger at the decent people trying to look out for these vulnerable members of our family.
An incredible effort has been underway over the last decade promoted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that suggested a bold 10-year-plan to end homelessness be developed by County Governments across the country. It has its roots in initiatives going back to the 1970’s when a courageous group of housing pioneers organized by the OC Human Relations Commission, League of Women Voters, Fair Housing Council, Legal Aid Society, and others sought to include low-income housing in all communities.
The objective, to provide a full continuum of housing for everyone from the affluent to the poor, from the mentally ill to the homeless, from the family to the individual, from the elderly to the young.
The process of developing this 10-year-plan was exhaustive including all of the local people, private providers of shelter, faith-based charities, key elected officials representing cities and the county, and staffed by an amazing group of Orange County Government employees. This comprehensive planning effort was intentionally slow to include everyone in the process, taking in all views and perspectives, coming up with rational plans that would be in the interests of all county residents.
Irrational Fears Cause Repeated Setbacks
Good plans for multi-service homeless shelters around the county that would have moved people off the streets and into shelter, and connected them with services that would allow many to get their lives back on track, were shot down by well-meaning residents armed with unfounded fears. Unfortunately, some folks were only too happy to lead the stampede by stoking concerns with misinformation.
Key Leaders Stepped Up
Supervisor Shawn Nelson was the first to promote a multi-service homeless shelter in his own district. Standing up to harsh voices in multiple forums he shared his experience as a neighbor of a homeless shelter.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer is currently leading the process to open a shelter in his own district. Spending valuable political capital to do the right thing, he has worked with County staff to orchestrate intense public engagement.
City officials in Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange, Placentia, Brea have also put their money and personal reputations on the line for the proposed Kraemer Place site. Councilwoman Kris Murray moderated the most recent forum, with Councilmembers Jennifer Fitzgerald and Fred Whitaker managing the microphones for the nearly 100 members of the public who wanted to weigh in. Chief Raul Quezada outlined a well thought out safety plan worked out collaboratively with all of the law enforcement agencies in the area.
The Public Raised its Voice
The last public forum, held at Eastside Christian Church, which is in proximity to the site of the proposed shelter, drew about 600 people, almost 100 testified in an open and interactive session.
One local business owner didn’t complain about the full nude strip club adjacent to his property, but thought the homeless shelter would be a bad neighbor. Many local residents spoke passionately, without realizing that many of their concerns were unfounded. Facts like that there will be no walk-ins at the shelter, and that the shelter will allow local law enforcement to reduce the homeless on the street, making their neighborhood safer.
The clear majority spoke in favor of the homeless shelter. Although the opponents were loud, they were clearly outnumbered by a broad cross section of the caring people of Orange County. Faith leaders, shelter volunteers, church members, homeless individuals, local residents, local business people, diverse communities, police, local elected officials, etc. came together to say the time is now, the place is here, let’s do the right thing.
Final Action by the Board of Supervisors
At 11 a.m. on November 17 the Board of Supervisors will take final action to approve the opening of a year-round, multi-service, homeless shelter at 1000 Kraemer Place in Anaheim. Join us in supporting the Board of Supervisors as they do the right thing.
The time is now, the place is here, let’s do the right thing!
About the Commission: The Orange County Human Relations Commission was created by the Board of Supervisors in 1971 to build mutual understanding among residents, and eliminate prejudice, intolerance and discrimination.
Ken Inouye is a businessman and current Chair of the Commission.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at email@example.com.
Read an editorial by a resident opposed to the shelter here.