The federal budget stalemate is forcing armories that shelter hundreds of homeless Orange County adults to close for the season Thursday, which is nearly a week earlier than scheduled.
The armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton were supposed to remain open until April 1, but “we’ve flat run out of money,” said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, which runs the winter armory program for the county.
The armory shelter programs, which traditionally are financed by county, state and federal funds, are supposed to be open from the beginning of December until about mid-April. But for the past two years they have run for a shorter time due to a lack of funds.
Last year, the state stopped its contributions to the program because of a budget deficit. There were no state funds again this winter and the services didn’t begin until mid-December.
Adding to the problem this year is a lack of federal money because Congress hasn’t been able to reach agreement on a budget. Stop-gap budgets have kept federal services running but programs like the homeless shelters, which rely on annual grants, have seen their funds held back until there is a permanent federal budget, said Haynes.
Homeless people said they were told of the early closure of the armories last week. It was not welcome news to the 50 or so rain drenched men and women who congregated Thursday in Anaheim’s La Palma Park.
“I wish they wouldn’t close it so early,” said A.J. Hightower, noting the armories are the only shelter homeless men can count on throughout the winter. Charitable groups like the Salvation Army also offer programs, but they have limited space or have to restrict stays to a definite time limit in order to rotate services among the needy.
In addition to shelter and a space to sleep, the armories provide food for the homeless who stay there.
Hightower, Christine Arthur and Mark Osmond were among about 50 homeless men and women who bunched together under the trees at La Palma Park throughout Thursday’s rain.
About 5:30 p.m., the bus that transports homeless from pick-up points to the shelters, arrived and they stowed their belongings in the baggage compartment and climbed on board.
The crowd in the park was larger than usual because the Santa Ana armory closed for the winter last week when it was needed for military training.
County officials advanced roughly $350,000, on top of what the county usually spends, to keep the armories open this long, said Haynes. He said the winter shelter program for adults normally costs about $1 million. When Congress approves a budget and funds are released, the county could be repaid its $350,000.
But, said Haynes, right now “we’re at a point where we’re out of money. We no longer can keep the program open.”
A separate program financed through the county’s Children and Families Commission, the United Way and the Orange County Register pays to divert families with children that come to the armories to motels.
Haynes said from the motels the families are moved to transitional housing and then to permanent housing. Families in that program aren’t affected by the early closing of the armories, he said, although once the armories are shut down for the year, no more families can enter the motel program.
“It highlights the need for a year round emergency system,” he said.
— TRACY WOOD