Nearly a year after the Fullerton City Council voted down an Orange County plan to open a homeless shelter in the city adjacent to an elementary school, a potential new location has been found in Anaheim.
Last month, Anaheim officials closed escrow on a three-acre parcel of vacant, undeveloped land on Carl Karcher Way, which is on the Fullerton border and one block north of La Palma Park, a regular hangout for the city’s homeless population.
In March, the Anaheim City Council authorized the $3 million dollar purchase from Carl’s Jr. Restaurants without referencing its intended use. However, Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee has since publicly pledged his support for Anaheim’s plan to develop the site as Orange County’s first permanent 24-hour homeless shelter.
Fullerton’s role in establishing a shelter at the new Anaheim site has yet to be defined, but Chaffee and Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz confirmed that this latest attempt to establish a shelter in North Orange County is a cooperative effort between the County of Orange, Anaheim and Fullerton.
“A partnership approach makes sense because the homeless don’t see a municipal boundary,” said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, the social service agency that operates a nighttime shelter from October to April at Fullerton's National Guard Armory.
"This is not a case of one city ‘dumping’ its homeless population on its neighbor, because the two cities share the same population. It is a fluid population that splits time between Anaheim and Fullerton.”
Felz said Fullerton would likely contribute capital improvement funds to assist in acquiring and developing the site, and an official multijurisdictional agreement would be struck among the two cities and the county.
Under the current plan, Anaheim will own the land and facilities and lease it to Orange County, which will operate the shelter as a regional facility. This approach differs greatly from Orange County’s attempt in 2013 to purchase a vacant furniture store on S. State College Boulevard in Fullerton for a homeless shelter before consulting with Fullerton's leaders.
That deal began to unravel in March 2013, when County Supervisor Shawn Nelson sponsored a community information meeting at the Fullerton Library where nearby residents shouted their concerns that a homeless shelter would hurt property values and parents decried the location because it would have placed children in close proximity to people with mental health issues and criminal backgrounds.
This time around, Anaheim is acquiring the land directly, and the city’s ownership of the site will give it control over how the facilities are developed and how surrounding land uses are impacted.
In an interview, Chaffee said the Anaheim location is better suited for housing 200 homeless adults because the site is not directly adjacent to schools or housing, his reasons for rejecting the Fullerton site in 2013. He also emphasized that three acres of open land offers an opportunity to construct a new facility with space for mental health and social service offices and a police substation.
“The need for a shelter is urgent,” he said. “We are at the start of a quickly-moving process.”
Elizabeth Hansburg is a Fullerton-based freelance writer.