Santa Ana Launches Program to Get Civic Center Homeless Into Housing

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

A homeless man rests outside the Santa Ana Library.

With hundreds of homeless people continuing to camp at the Santa Ana Civic Center, city leaders are embarking on a new way to address the issue.

On Tuesday night, the Santa Ana City Council hired a nonprofit to bring together a wide variety of groups – from volunteers to religious organizations, nonprofits, activists, businesses, and government agencies – to collaborate on getting Civic Center homeless people set up with housing.

The arrangement with Long-Beach based City Net calls for placing 30 homeless people into housing each quarter, for a total of 120 people during the year-long contract.

It marks the first time in recent memory that city or county leaders have set a goal of placing a specific number of Civic Center homeless into housing on an ongoing basis.

“I do believe that we are going to see a dramatic change in our city,” said Pastor Daniel de León, who was representing City Net at Tuesday night’s meeting. He said the nonprofit has been moving 30 to 40 people off the streets every month in Anaheim, which hired the group for similar work.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez said that while addressing homelessness is mostly a county government responsibility, the city is stepping up and working on it.

“We’re not making excuses. We’re willing to roll up our sleeves and collaborate with the county and with other partners to [ensure] that we address this issue head on,” Martinez said.

The vote to approve the $180,000 contract was 5-0, with council members Vincent Sarmiento and Angelica Amezcua absent from the meeting. Half of the funding – $90,000 – will come from the city and the other half from the county government.

The vote came a day after Santa Ana police shot a homeless man in front of City Hall. Several key details are still unknown, though a police spokesman said the man was being detained by two officers when he reached for one of their guns. The homeless man, Richard Gene Swihart, was still in the hospital in critical condition as of Tuesday evening.

City Net is headed by Executive Director Brad Fieldhouse and, in addition to Anaheim, has been hired by La Habra for similar work on homelessness. Santa Ana’s contract is with the nonprofit’s legal name, Kingdom Causes, Inc.

The new effort comes amid an explosion in the Civic Center homeless population in recent years, with the city estimating that 400 homeless people camp in the area during the day daytime and another 100 come at night.

The situation has put government employees in the Civic Center on edge as assaults against workers have been reported. As a result, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced last week that it will be training judges and court workers on how to protect themselves as they walk in the Civic Center between their cars and offices.

The main branch of the Santa Ana Public Library, which is in the Civic Center, has also been significantly affected, with city staff saying that needles have been discovered on the library grounds.

“This should be very concerning,” said Martinez. “This is serious and we should not have those kinds of needles exposed to our children and our families.”

Council members on Tuesday approved $160,000 in extra security guard services at city libraries, the vast majority of which is for the main library in the Civic Center.

This change to the city’s contract with the British multinational security firm G4S, increases the number of security guards at the main library from one to four. The increase, which is nearly twice as much as the city is allocating for the homeless housing effort, brings the total cost of library security guards to $245,000 this year.

The county government “has shifted a lot of folks on [to] our end” of the Civic Center through its recent construction project, added Martinez, who is running for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

The city’s last major Civic Center homelessness project was a contract with the nonprofit Mercy House to establish a check-in center for homeless people’s belongings.  That $200,000 project was approved in December 2014, but 19 months later, the promised check-in center hasn’t materialized.

Cities across the country have had success lately with placing chronically homeless people into permanent housing with support services, though Orange County’s supply is currently considered to be far below what is needed to get a sizable portion of the homeless population off the streets.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday what type of housing the City Net collaborative would be placing homeless people in or who would be covering the cost of it.

Larry “Smitty” Smith, a prominent Civic Center homeless advocate, thanked the council for its progress so far, but said more work still needs to be done.

“We can’t stop right now,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Jessica Toussi

    Please help we stayed at the civic center over night my bf and I please help us we r living in his car 9494265399 please help us move in somewhere Can my boyfriend and I move in Please we really love each other and wanna get married he drove me out here not knowing I didn’t have a place to live or even stay lost his ID in the process and been with no money have parents who r enable to help do to their own financial hardships
    We just sleep in his car! And it’s miserable I sleep at random dudes houses just to get a shower and laundry but than end up getting malested which is horrible we both need some one to give us a chance and be able and willing to help us please in desperate need really

    • Paola Granados

      Hi Jessica, I’m sorry about your situation. I don’t know if I can assist you monetarily but I’m a student journalist at UCI and I’d like to know a little more about your story. Please contact me if you’d be interested.

  • scott_lewis

    The homeless are an out-of-control blight on our state that, frankly, people are tired of. I work 50+ hours a week and paid almost half of my income in Fed, State and Local taxes and now places such as SF and LA want to shake us down for more money for these aimless drifters who contribute NOTHING positive to the state and, in fact, are starting fires, breaking into cars, leaving needles in parks so kids can’t play there, etc. Hint: if you’re poor don’t live in one of the most expensive places in the country!

  • scott_lewis

    Animals bring joy to people who adopt them. The homeless are an out-of-control blight that, frankly, people are tired of. I work 50+ hours a week and paid almost half of my income in Fed, State and Local taxes and now places such as SF and LA want to shake us down for more money for these aimless drifters who contribute NOTHING positive to the state and, in fact, are starting fires, breaking into cars, leaving needles in parks so kids can’t play there, etc. Hint: if you’re poor don’t liv in one of the most expensive places in the country!

  • Luis Noble-Perez

    If it wasn’t a business for the nonprofits and those who the county hires to solve the problem, which they don’t have no real interest in doing. We can end the homeless from being in streets and at the civic center. Safe Zones (encampments) with bathrooms and showers. The homeless already have or can get their own tents, all they need are open lots in every city which are already there empty growing weeds. Then churches and services can help those who want help. People would be able to shower and clean up, able to leave their belongings in their tents and blend with the rest of the people in the streets, some would be able to go out and look for work. Simply as that, it won’t happen because homelessness is a business for the police, city-net and the nonprofits that change $400 to $500 each with 3 or 4 people in one room. ; (

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is a tale of two Orange Counties. 1. The Elites who profit off of the 2. The Ghetto they created.

    What happened to the last homeless Czars & non-profits? Crickets? The system is designed not to be solved.

    Employees – they don’t care about your health or safety! Beware!

    Don’t become so desperate for fresh air and sunlight being locked in County “Sick” buildings that you become desensitized to the filth, disease and danger of skid row. Run!

  • Michael Williams

    That $ 90,000 dollars should be spent on supplies for the Police Department ? The Lying Politicans are at it again but this is their way of showing that they are doing something even though nothing is really being done ? The Country , Cities and States need leadership but Not Liberals in charge ?

    • Luis Noble-Perez

      The police are not train to handle the homeless or mentally ill. Their training is to handle criminals and traffic violations. We don’t need more cops we need more affordable housing, shelters and mental clinics. So the cops can go out and do what they were trained to do fight real crime.

      • angie blas

        i agree with your comment. we should stop funding labor and start looking for shelters.

  • John Claxton

    What happened to the Homeless Czar the county hired?

    • Michael Williams

      That job was a created one to show that ” Oh We mean business now ” type of rhetoric !