Faced with warnings of intense El Niño rains – and potentially raging waters in the Santa Ana River bed where homeless people live – Orange County supervisors are moving forward with plans to provide extra shelter beds this winter.
At their regular meeting Tuesday, supervisors unanimously approved up to $500,000 for extra emergency beds and services – beyond the limited amount already provided in winter at National Guard armories – and gave the go-ahead for a bidding process to pick a provider.
Much of the concern centers on the hundreds of homeless people who encamp in the Santa Ana River bed. If predictions that this year’s El Niño will be among the strongest on record bear out, heavy rains will turn the riverbed into a death trap.
It’s unclear how many beds would be available under the contract, where they’d be provided, and when these services are expected to start and end.
The county’s leader person on homeless shelter services, OC Community Resources Director Karen Roper, didn’t immediately return a message seeking that information Wednesday.
As for where the services would be provided, supervisors held a closed-session discussion Tuesday about purchasing an abandoned bus terminal next to the county Civic Center – which advocates and some elected officials have long hoped would be used for homeless services.
There was no action reported out of Tuesday’s closed session, meaning there wasn’t a vote to purchase the property.
The supervisors could take up the issue again at next Tuesday’s meeting – their last scheduled meeting of the year – though it wasn’t on the first version of the agenda published Wednesday. The item could be added as late as Friday evening.
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer also said on Tuesday that he’ll be sending out a memo to county employees later this week seeking volunteers for homeless shelters this winter.
Meanwhile, county officials say they’ve begun recruiting for the “homeless czar” position that Supervisor Andrew Do proposed a few months ago.
When announcing the idea in September, Do said there needs to be a single point person is needed to keep track of the plethora of county services and figure out how to improve their effectiveness. The job was funded last month as part of a budget update.
As for the temporary beds, the up to half-million-dollars in funding is slated to come from the $3.6 million supervisors set aside this year for the yet-to-be-realized year-round shelter.
That shelter, which recently found a home with the county’s purchase of a building in Anaheim, isn’t expected to open up until late 2016 at the earliest.