Spitzer Touts Possible Homeless Shelter Site in Anaheim

Following years of failure by local officials to find a site for Orange County’s first year-round homeless shelter, county supervisors' Chairman Todd Spitzer is expressing cautious optimism about a potential site in Anaheim.

Located in a light industrial section of North Anaheim, the site is far from any residential neighborhood and is actually located near a strip club, Spitzer said at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, alluding to the fact that other locations have been shot down due to their proximity to schools.

“If you can’t put this shelter a half a block from an all-nude strip club…in an all-commercial area…not near any homes, not near any schools, completely separated from residences by the 91 freeway and the Santa Ana River, then you probably can’t build it anywhere,” Spitzer said.

“I really think it might be ideal,” Spitzer added, urging his colleagues to support negotiations for the property, which is located at 1000 N. Kraemer Pl.

Fullerton City Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald showed up to the supervisors meeting to tout the site, saying it “really brings together multiple cities…so a lot of good can be done there.”

The city councils of both Fullerton and Anaheim are expected to take up resolutions favoring the site at their next meetings.

In Anaheim’s case, the council is slated to also consider whether to chip in financially for the shelter.

Supervisor Michelle Steele said she would support the Anaheim site, but others were noncommittal. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, meanwhile, said she had a different shelter site in mind but wouldn't be specific, citing possible property negotiations.

She said the location was on the “outskirts” of one of the supervisor’s districts, not near any schools or residential neighborhoods and is “probably not” in the first or third districts.  She declined to identify it further.

Despite the lack of unanimous support for the Anaheim location, supervisors did direct county staff to pursue negotiations for any location that appears promising, while at the same time saying they expect community pushback.

“It’s the same exact arguments, just different people,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

“We just need leadership…We need somebody to step up, be big enough to accept” that arrows are going to go flying, Nelson added.  “I’m ashamed that I haven’t fixed this.”

One faction already upset about a possible Anaheim location is the main lobbying group for homeless at the Santa Ana Civic Center. They remain disappointed that supervisors backed away from a proposed site in Santa Ana.

Several hundred homeless people live at a makeshift encampment outside Civic Center, a situation that has become a symbol of the county's failure to address the problem.

“The chronically homeless, like the people we have here at the Civic Center…nothing’s been done for these people for a long time,” said Tim Houchen, a spokesman for the Civic Center Roundtable.

The group has proposed a triage center at the Civic Center, Houchen said, with a kiosk where county officials and nonprofits could run an entry program the county has to do in order to not lose millions of dollars in funding.

“Even without the shelter, we can do it right here,” Houchen said, adding that the proposal is slated for discussion at Friday’s meeting of the county Commission to End Homelessness.

The homeless advocacy group has been trying to speak with their county elected representative, First District Supervisor Andrew Do, but their calls haven’t been returned, Houchen said.

Do didn’t return an email Wednesday evening seeking comment.

Orange County is among the few large metropolitan areas in the nation that does not have a permanent, year-round shelter.

The only options now are the current shelters at National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana that only operate from December to April.

The armories program, however, lacks the types of mental health, drug and job placement services that many advocates and officials say are critical for reducing homelessness.

Support for other permanent shelter proposals in recent years wilted in the face of community resistance.

The proposal to buy a building in central Santa Ana was the most recent victim of backlash from local residents and business owners.

Before that, a site in Fullerton was floated as a possibility, but that idea collapsed after a split Fullerton City Council rejected the plan in 2013.

And in 2012, county Supervisor John Moorlach’s effort to turn a shuttered Santa Ana bus depot lost steam after stiff resistance from top city officials. Then-City Manager Paul Walters strongly opposed the site because it was just blocks away from a dense cluster of downtown businesses, including a blossoming restaurants scene.

Funding has already been set aside by the county to buy and run a shelter, with over $6 million for facility costs and $3.6 million per year for operations.

Exactly who would run the shelter has yet to be decided, though it’s likely to involve non-profit providers.

Debate on Wednesday also centered on whether to develop multiple smaller shelters or a single, larger shelter.

“I think, based on the past experience, the communities do not seem to want a large shelter that is in their community,” said Paul Cho of the Illumination Foundation, a non-profit homeless services group.  He suggested that multiple shelters would also allow one to be built in South County.

The county’s current contractor who runs the armories program disagreed.

Larry Haynes, the executive director of Mercy House, said that last year over 2,000 people were served at the two armories for the first time ever.

“The data drives the issue that we need a big response to a big problem,” Haynes said, adding that there are “tremendous efficiencies” that come with larger scale facilities.

Ultimately, supervisors stood by the single shelter approach.

“I think you get the economies of scale” when you have a large shelter, said Bartlett.

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, said a critical component is missing from the debate, which is the need for permanent supportive housing in addition to shelters.

Such housing is in short supply in Orange County but “has been shown to be the most cost effective and the most effective solution” for ending homelessness, said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst with the ACLU of Southern California.

Some of that potential housing supply is already owned by the city of Santa Ana, with many properties acquired by the city through receivership, said Houchen, the homeless lobby group’s spokesman.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.