The chances that Orange County might finally get a year-round homeless shelter got a little better this week after city councils in Anaheim and Fullerton agreed to chip in a combined $1 million toward studying the acquisition of a potential site in north Anaheim.
Under the agreement, Anaheim and Fullerton will each contribute $500,000 toward the proposed 200-bed shelter. The cities get the funds back if the site isn't acquired, minus a non-refundable $50,000 deposit from each city.
Until recently, finding a politically viable shelter site has proved a frustrating quest for local government officials. Other proposed locations in Santa Ana and Fullerton were scuttled after backlash from nearby residents.
But this latest proposal, an industrial zoned building at 1000 N. Kraemer Place, is considered the best shot so far because it is not near any schools, parks or neighborhoods.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer in March put it this way: “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.”
However, signs of a nascent opposition movement have cropped up. Attorney Marc Alexander, with the firm AlvaradoSmith, said during public comments at this week's Anaheim council meeting that the city couldn’t contribute funds toward the site without first doing an environmental study under state law. He said he was representing property owners at N. Kraemer Place.
Also, opponents distributed a flyer in the neighborhoods near the site with a map that highlights the Rio Vista School, indicating that they believe the location is too close to the school.
“How will the homeless get to/from the shelter?” the flyer asks.
Yet such communications don’t yet match the massive opposition that erupted when other locations were considered.
In 2013, when the county Board of Supervisors tried to site a shelter in Fullerton, the Fullerton City Council shot it down. And last year, when the county attempted to put a homeless shelter in an industrial section of Santa Ana, hundreds of residents organized to oppose it.
But this time, so far, supporters of the shelter have far outnumbered its opponents, at least publicly.
Jeanette Bollen, homeless liaison officer with the Coast to Coast Foundation, told a story during Anaheim council’s public comments about a homeless woman who died of leukemia at La Palma Park.
“It’s a matter of humanity… of upholding the humanity of a person, the dignity, the self-respect,” Bollen said.
Anaheim council members agreed.
Before voting for the funding, Councilwoman Kris Murray delivered an impassioned speech about the community responsibility to take care of its most vulnerable people.
“It’s important for everybody to realize that compassion is not just an expression of sympathy,” Murray said. “We have an opportunity to act with genuine compassion tonight.”
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek