Santana: Inaction on Bus Shelter for Homeless Could Trigger Civic Protest

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Last week’s strong winds are just a gentle reminder about what’s coming.

Winter.

It’s that sad time of year to once again admit that members of our Orange County Board of Supervisors continue to miserably fail their constituents, who will have to watch once again hundreds of homeless people left outside at the county Civic Center to brave the oncoming elements, which are expected to be particularly harsh this year, despite the nickname of El Niño.

El Niño should be the nickname for supervisors’ approach to homelessness, because the effort never seems to mature beyond the crib – especially when it comes to their own front yard.

Just last month, Supervisor Andrew Do all but admitted publicly that the county just doesn’t have a clear policy approach, calling for a “homeless czar” of sorts – someone to lead what is currently a bunch of seemingly disconnected efforts.

We’re still waiting for that job posting.

Now, County Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer reminds me that there are two National Guard armory sites operating in Orange County during winter months. But one wonders if that will cut it this year given the historic winter.

Spitzer also points to an upcoming Nov. 17 hearing on a shelter site in Anaheim as proof supervisors deserve a pat on the back in terms of progress.

Yet while it is a good thing to see movement on any shelter – that won’t cover anybody this winter at the Civic Center.

It’s incredibly ironic to watch supervisors, like Shawn Nelson, lecture neighbors who are rightly suspicious that the county government will leave them on the hook to deal with a vulnerable population at the proposed site in Anaheim without real resources to do anything.

Just look at the Civic Center and your faith in elected officials plummets – which often leaves me wondering if that’s the real plan: to show how feckless government is.

The Civic Center is a complete disaster – and it seems like not one county supervisor can do anything about it.

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Despite all the public promises from the supervisors’ dais about getting moving on homeless services, and the arrival of the occasional agency tents and motor homes at the civic center, hundreds still live outside – often brutalized, raped and victimized by petty crooks, regularly arrested and cited by police…

All while being regularly fed by an army of well-meaning nonprofits.

It’s a bizarre, and increasingly lawless, place where county workers put on their earphones and walk as fast as possible through the human gauntlet of misery strewn out across the lawn.

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Poor people, those who have run out of options, are just littered throughout the grounds along with trash, shopping carts and makeshift storage.

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Some are criminals. Many are mentally ill, seemingly allowed to wander so no money is spent on them and county reserves fatten.

Police cars often drive right across grassy fields seeded by taxpayers while rats roam the planters, which in many cases have now devolved into makeshift campgrounds.

Meanwhile, poor children play throughout the grounds.

And again, across the way – not more than a hundred yards – is a large, empty facility, half covered and totally empty.

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Correct that.

On Friday, there was one person sleeping on a bench surrounded by emptiness enjoying what maybe the most comfortable nap in town, enjoyed by the most intelligent person in town.

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It seems criminal to leave so many people outside without any immediate services – such as bathrooms. Nearby at the bus terminal, there is easily enough room for 50 cots plus locker areas to keep personal items.

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Easily enough room for a phone charging station, maybe even a computer terminal to allow for job/apartment searches.

Easy to simply expand the current bathroom facilities.

Easy to have stations where people can talk to social workers, health care agency workers, non-profits.

The facility also has an ability to allow large vehicles to drive in for daily feedings or medical vans.

Every single elected official, nonprofit leader and homeless activist I press on this issue admits to me privately that it makes total sense to move this hopeless crowd into a hopeful situation at the abandoned bus terminal.

Yet month after month, year after year, nothing seems to happen.

State Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) – back when he was a county supervisor – constantly advocated moving people into the shelter but could never get any traction. At one point, supervisors even voted to move on the site.

But again, nothing.

Recently, the closest thing we have to a county leader on homeless policy – OC Community Resources executive Karen Roper – publicly admitted to a room full of homeless activists that the bus shelter is “a great location.”

Then she told the room the same old ten-year-old alibi, that the county has no authority to do anything with it – because the Orange County Transportation Authority owns the facility and it has to be used for transit.

This is the same group that just spent nearly $200 million on a massive lit structure that is famous because it’s empty and no one uses it.

But when it comes to transforming an abandoned bus shelter for a public good – officials refer to OCTA like it’s the FBI under Hoover.

That kind of flawed logic is what always threatens the rule of law because people can smell bullshit, especially political bullshit, from far away.

That’s where we are at now.

Madeleine Spencer, who has been heading up the Project Homelessness Coalition in Santa Ana, and diligently meeting with officials to find solutions for the Civic Center indicates that many civic leaders are losing patience.

“I am done waiting for the city and county who have site jurisdiction over this spot open it up,” Spencer said. “The next day it rains, if this site is not opened [Santa Ana] Chief [Carlos] Rojas can meet me outside the terminal because I will be there with a lock cutter and we will open up the space and begin a check-in center ourselves,” Spencer said.

“I refuse to allow for the continued unsanitary practice of not having sufficient bathrooms causing the homeless in Civic Center to use the Civic Center and the rest of the Downtown Corridor as a bathroom. I am done waiting,” she said.

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“A lock is all that stands between the homeless and the check in center. It is time to cut the lock and actively take care of this problem.”

Maybe we finally have a leader arising out of the ashes of the Civic Center.

  • Jacki Livingston

    To quote my favorite show, “Winter is coming”, and the BoS/PoS sits there and does absolutely nothing…as usual.

  • David Zenger

    And Building 16 sits there, right next to the Civic Center Mall, empty as Pharaoh’s tomb a silent and seemingly permanent indictment of the County leaders uselessness.

    With some portable toilets it could be used immediately, and no phony excuses.