Santana: OC Homelessness Czar Gets to Work; So Should County Supervisors

Orange County officials announce Susan Price as their homelessness service coordinator (from left to right: CEO Frank Kim, Supervisor Andrew Do, Supervisors' Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Susan Price, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and COO Mark Denny).

Norberto Santana Jr.

Orange County officials announce Susan Price as their homelessness service coordinator (from left to right: CEO Frank Kim, Supervisor Andrew Do, Supervisors' Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Susan Price, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and COO Mark Denny).

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Going into Memorial Day weekend, Orange County homelessness activists were gearing up to deal with police sweeps of homeless encampments along the Santa Ana riverbed near the 57 Freeway.

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Yet instead of the traditional yard-blower approach to homelessness, they got something very different.

On Friday, county supervisors formally welcomed a new leader – Susan Price – whose sole focus is to attack homelessness in a comprehensive way.

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Price, who made a name for herself as the city of Long Beach’s homelessness services coordinator, will work directly for CEO Frank Kim on getting the county’s huge bureaucracy focused on combating homelessness after a decade of feckless wandering.

This past year, supervisors have inched forward on addressing homelessness, authorizing the homelessness service coordinator position. They also purchased an abandoned OCTA bus terminal, ostensibly as a homeless service center that can act as an entry point into a system of care and rehabilitation for those who end up at Santa Ana’s downtown civic center – a traditional gathering point for the homeless.

Supervisors also have authorized a homeless shelter in Anaheim, but Supervisors’ Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett acknowledges that it isn’t enough given that National Guard cold weather armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana may not be opened this year because of the commitment to do a full-time shelter on Kraemer Place in Anaheim.

At the Friday morning press mixer that county officials organized for Price, I was anxious to ask her a million questions…about the terminal, the Kraemer site, veterans housing, etc.

I’ve been waiting nearly a year to interview someone like her.

While Price wouldn’t comment on any specific projects, she confidently told me that attacking homelessness is not complicated.

“It’s about income and housing,” Price said.

She’s right on target.

Supervisors and department heads need to focus government income streams on key services – like housing – for this population immediately.

Yet often times, government is doing exactly the opposite.

Consider the coming U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding cuts that will reduce the amount of transitional housing funds available to the homeless starting on July 1.

Colette’s Children’s Home in Huntington Beach alone is reporting that they will lose 120 transitional housing beds effecting over 250 women and children a year.

I heard from Teamsters Local 952 Secretary Treasurer Pat Kelley over the weekend about a press conference they are holding on the issue today at noon at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in downtown Santa Ana. They’re starting out their morning by taking officials out to tour the riverbed camp cities that are popping up along the 57 Freeway.

These tent cities also have really struck a nerve on the fifth floor of the county Hall of Administration (where supervisors’ offices are located) with Supervisor Todd Spitzer (whose district has the tent cities) on Friday announcing that he’s urging action after getting feedback from the public and his colleagues.

Meanwhile, activists are hearing that the Memorial Day police sweeps on homeless are back on, postponed until later this week.

I hope they get surprised again.

I Told You So

In recent months, I’ve been watching supervisors’ supplemental agendas fatten up considerably in the wake of cutting the yearly meeting schedule.

The plan, championed in January by Bartlett in her new role as supervisors’ chairwoman, also has drawn fire from a few of her colleagues because it makes a county supervisor’s calendar resemble that of a city council member — only meeting in public two times a month.

Bartlett argued her plan would make government more transparent because agendas would be posted with two weeks advance notice.

I argued – correctly, it turns out – that the change would make supplemental (aka last minute) additions to the agenda grow considerably.

I wasn’t the only one.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that cutting six meetings from the annual schedule would overload the agenda when even before some meetings lasted until 5 p.m.,” wrote Voice of OC longtime commenter, LFOldTimer, on Nick Gerda’s story out of last week’s supervisors’ session.

Nobody in politics (including agency department heads) is going to give you two weeks to telegraph punches.

And this last week, CEO Frank Kim confirmed it publicly: supplemental agendas have grown by eight percent over last year.

This last week’s supplemental agenda was over 800 pages. And it’s been that way for the last few county supervisors’ public meetings.

And you can bet that the last to figure out that kind of maze is the public.

These last-minute supplemental agendas also don’t come with any kind of organizing table or links….just a straight 800-page document – like combing through the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Good luck trying to search through that.

Now, despite what Bartlett says, that’s not more transparent.

When I ran into Bartlett at the Friday event and asked her about the agenda friction with her colleagues, she stood firm, saying her colleagues needed to do their homework ahead of time instead of waiting for the weekends to finish their analysis.

Except I have to stand up a bit for her colleagues here.

If, for a variety of reasons, supplemental proposals are substantially changing the agenda the Friday before a Tuesday meeting, then it doesn’t matter that some template of an agenda was posted two weeks prior.

And if you get less public meetings – lets chances up to bat – then the supplemental really becomes where the action is at…

That means more last-minute proposals, less transparency.

County supervisors should, if anything, meet more often in public – as do their colleagues in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

I know that meeting in public can often draw unscripted moments and take up lots of time.

That’s democracy.

That’s what supervisors signed up for, campaigned for…

This last week you could see the panic in their collective faces as the rush of delayed contracts – from not meeting enough – came at them.

I don’t think even one member of this exclusive band of so-called conservative Republicans on the Board of Supervisors made one substantial change – much less improvement – to one single government contract at the last meeting.

At one point, Supervisor Michelle Steel went after department heads — publicly complaining that putting last minute contract approvals before her effectively limits her ability to question.

She insisted that department heads must stop bringing up last-minute requests – even though the Sheriff’s Department has been doing it for years…and getting away with it.

And then she voted yes, yes, yes…

Spitzer admitted publicly that he felt rushed and in effect, ill-prepared to provide good solid fiscal review of complex issues and contracts.

Nonetheless, backed up against fiscal year-end deadlines, supervisors kept on with a string of revolving, authorizing spending votes.

They all voted yes, yes, yes…

Supervisor Shawn Nelson (to his credit the only supervisor opposed to the new agenda approach) looked up at one point during the public meeting, reminding people that they had just spent $200 million dollars – without one public question!

Now, Nelson will argue that for him, the public meeting is just the last procedural step of a review process that begins well before, in his office, with his crack staff looking into issues, resolving questions.

Yet for others, like reporters, public meetings are a critical part of the process of self-governing because its’ the only place where all board members can sit together and work on policy.

It may be messy to watch, but that’s how you’re supposed to legislate.

Out in the open.

At least, that’s how our state constitution sees it.

So let’s get back to work.

  • Ed Romero

    I understand they mean well, but it’s a HOPELESS case trying to solve the homeless problem. The vast majority of them do not want to be helped, they want to USE YOU.
    A perfect example of this is the purchase of the OCTA Bus Terminal, the vast majority of the homeless refused to use it during that last cold snap we had, because they REFUSED TO FOLLOW THE RULES.

    • Jacki Livingston

      That is completely unfair and not true! I have been homeless, in the past, and in fact I took in a homeless family just recently. Are there bad apples? Sure, just like the five rotten apples on the BoS. The terminal was a failure because they didn’t get the work out, they had no preparations ready, no organization and it looked more like an outdoor jail than a shelter. At SSA, the overwhelming majority of my homeless clients were people just like you or me, who had one really bad break. They want to work. They want job training. They want clean clothes and pride. But this county does everything backwards. I had clients who broke down in tears, because I gave them a donated sweatshirt and some clean socks. Your accusation is part of the problem, and another part is the assumption that what helps one will work for all. It doesn’t. I had a homeless client who was living in her Mercedes, because her husband kicked her out for a younger woman. She had that car, and her clothing. She also had Fibromyalgia and Lupus, and was in constant pain. All she wanted was a job. I had another who was living under a bridge with four kids. She wanted to work, but it wasn’t enough for rent and babysitters, and her ex didn’t pay support. The truth is, the faces and voices of homelessness are as varied and human as you and I. Most of them are good people in a bad way. Further, too many of them are veterans of our military, and that is UNACCEPTABLE! They served, and then ignored when they came home with PTSD and other issues. These people don’t refuse to follow the rules! This county has failed, miserably, at providing the kind of outreach and services that can help those who really want help get back on their feet. Your generalization is unfair, and I certainly hope that neither you, or someone you love, ever has to hold your child and wonder where you will lay your head down, that night, and the next. There, but for the grace of God, go us all.

      • cynthia curran

        In fact the county governments that helped the homeless more like LA or San Diego have a higher percentage of homeless. OC is only considered more homeless because Santa Ana had thousands of people in the US here illegality that the landlords in Santa Ana and Anaheim allow to rent with more people than they are suppose too. Not blaming the illegal immigrants its the employers that hire them to be maids or cooks in OC that need to be fine for doing that. As for the homeless, there are lots of folks like the Orange County Resue Mission that have gotten people out of people homeless than the county government.. Why, don’t you mention this. The OCRM has done more than the county government for several years. The churches in the area need to get people jobs not the county government. These people can do lots of warehousing jobs. The temp agencies even asked for people that don’t speak English. Its not hard to get a job these days in Orange County but the local churches just provide food instead of transporting the ones without cars to the temp agencies to do 4 to 12 month temp assignments mainly in warehousing. I have seen about 400 jobs in warehousing in Craig list for Orange County. The churches can start with the food only and have them do volunteer work for the churches and then provide about 4 months to a church housing. Orange County has some very large churches that could do this. I here a lot of political liberals whine about the county not doing anything but lots of liberal counties that do the referrials and temp housing like LA still have a lot of homeless in their cars or on the streets. The churches in Orange County need to do something besides give food they can help people get jobs by providing transportation or a place to stay.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Brilliant analysis, Norberto. Seriously, you are right on the money.

    I have enormous empathy for Ms. Price. She did a great job in LB, in large part because she was working with departments that were actually trying to work together. She will not find that in the primary agency that she needs to get behind her…SSA. Mike Ryan’s ship has so many holes in it, he is trying to stick chewing gum, just to stay afloat. The agency is plagued with numerous problems. For one, the nepotism and cronyism is unbelievable. I challenge anyone to do a relation chart of management in the agency. Go on…I’ll wait. Two, SSA is bogged down with a generational tech issue. The agency was once the domain of certain minorities, with multiple family members, who did not have to deal with the change of software and systems. They rose to the top with very hard work, along with nepotism. Now, the cronyism has led to some very unsavory individuals who have not just learned the systems, but actually designed them, for their own financial and career benefit. Old dogs and new tricks? These tech boys have risen to the top because the near retirement folks don’t want to know how it all works. They want to do their couple of years and retire, so they don’t question the unethical and, frankly illegal practices. Last, the Ryan regime is fear based. Employees are silenced, because they have watched a number of people pushed out because they dare to speak. Ryan slithered his way up the food chain, from Harita to Riley, past other, better, managers, by having these tech wizards at his back, and promising them the moon if they look out for him. Take a good look at the new business model of SSA. Everything is being pushed to automation. Clients are no longer being seen in a lot of offices. Instead, they have to speak to whoever answers the phone. The new building at Katella and State College does not allow any clients to come there. It might seem good, to have things so automated and only on the phones and computers, but it prevents the workers from catching fraud, whether it be client fraud or employee embezzlement, and that is just the way they love it. There is no investment, for employees, no caring about the clients, and no caring about their ultimate employer, the taxpayers. I have emails where I was told by senior management to ignore fraud, ignore any signs that an applicant is lying or getting benefits that they are not entitled to. “Just give it to them” is the phrase the workers hear, every time they try to do their duty by the taxpayers. The BoS is just ducky with this. I have not heard of a single time, in fourteen years, that an employee sought the aid of the supervisors on the board, and got any help at all. In every case, them employee was either written up, or forced out.

    Of course, it goes without saying that other unethical behavior is rampant. Long weekends in Sacramento for managers bringing a bright and upcoming underling with them? Long lunches in the managers office or car? Fantasy football and other gambling going on, on office time? SSA makes Peyton Place look like a convent. Ms. Price has no idea of the corruption and abuse in that agency. They will not work with her, and they will block her. She cannot succeed without them, and they will never really help her. What a joke.

    • cynthia curran

      Bull, the government in Long Beach gets less people off the streets than the Orange County Rescue Mission. The OCRM or the Rescue Mission in Los Angeles have helped to get more people off the streets than the county government’s have. Why not give county and church money to the Rescue Mission’s to do this.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Uh…”separation of church and state”?