Supervisors Lambast County Staff for Lack of Outreach at Civic Center

From left: Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a homeless person at the Civic Center, and Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

The homeless encampment at Orange County’s Civic Center has grown to hundreds of people over the past few years, including some families with young children.

But the county government, which oversees more than $100 million per year in mental health funding, still hasn’t assigned a full-time social worker to the area to help connect people with services.

That’s apparently about to change.

County supervisors Todd Spitzer and Shawn Nelson on Tuesday confronted top heath officials about the situation, saying the county really needs to step up its efforts and getting staff to commit to changes.

“Why aren’t we pulling up a van every single day and deploying services every single day?” asked Spitzer, who said there should be a “continuum of care” available to the Civic Center population.

That would include a triage area where homeless people can get set up with drug counseling, mental health treatment and housing and welfare-to-work services, he said.

The supervisors’ orders followed a column earlier on Tuesday by Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. that condemned the deplorable conditions at the Civic Center and criticized supervisors for doing little to alleviate the suffering.

Spitzer went on to point out that with all the surgeons and doctors at county jails, “we spend more money on people who are violating society than we do on people that are just trying to make it back from a really, really tough time.”

At Nelson’s urging, staff also agreed to assign a full-time social worker to the area at least on weekdays, and possibly someone on weekends as well.

“We don’t have to expend a lot of resources to at least” make sure someone is there making contact, said Nelson. “The effort is very difficult to feel right now.”

The tone marked a sharp change from supervisors’ previous attitude towards the Civic Center population.  The county’s Health Care Agency director, Mark Refowitz, said that in the past staff were told to not bring more people to Civic Center and not to draw attention to the area.

The county’s behavioral health director, Mary Hale, added that staff had considered putting up a table in the Civic Center, but “don’t want to draw attention, or have not thought it was…your desire to draw that attention.”

The discussion prompted some dramatic back and forth as Spitzer and Nelson rebutted staff’s responses to their concerns.

Things began to grow tense when Hale responded to Nelson’s complaint about a lack of outreach at the Civic Center.  Hale asserted that there already is a county staffer assigned to do outreach there part-time.

Nelson replied that Hale’s assertion doesn’t jibe with his experience, and ended up sending out an aide – during the discussion – to ask homeless people if the county worker had spoken with them.

“The majority of people have no idea what he’s talking about,” Nelson said after his aide reported back on his interactions. “Are you surprised with the result that I got? ‘Cause I’m not.”

Hale said she was “only a little” surprised, given that the county employees might not be making it clear they work for the county.

“They try to blend in” and look mentally ill, Hale said of the county staff. “There’s also the possibility that the staff that are there aren’t identifying themselves.”

Nelson then urged her to ensure there’s “just one person minimum every day. That is obvious.  Not an undercover.”

They should be there “all day every day, [with a] visor and sunscreen, working with the people,” he added.

Spitzer, meanwhile, expressed frustration at Hale’s focus on statistics about the homeless population, rather than offering a plan of action.

“Who cares?” he said of the percentages between people with mental illness versus substance abuse issues. “They all need services.”

Spitzer said there should be continuum of services, including drug and mental health treatment, as well as opportunities for eligible homeless people to sign up for health care through Medi-Cal and the welfare-to-work program CalWorks.

When it comes to mental health services, there’s a massive amount of money available to the county.

Orange County is slated to receive $119 million this year in state dollars for mental health services, through the Mental Health Services Act, and use another $21 million in leftover funds for mental health programs.

And the county is projecting at least $8 million in extra funding for mental health programs over the next five years.

But the current pace of planning that spending frustrated Spitzer.

When Hale noted that a comprehensive assessment for mental health programs was being developed to guide decisions in fiscal year 2018, Spitzer got upset yet again.

“We can’t spent this many hundreds of millions” and billions of dollars in this country “and not know what we need to do. I do not need another study in another cycle to push the problem off another year to tell me we have a serious problem,” he said.

“It’s the humanitarian side of public policy,” Spitzer added.  “We’ve got to do something, man, and we’ve got to start somewhere, and we’ve got to start chipping away.”

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


    Does anyone find it strange, odd, sad, very sad that the homeless that we see at the old bus terminal is actually the headquarters for the Health Care Agency? What’s wrong with this picture? Also, I agree that in the past 10 years the civic center area has become homeless city. I have never seeing so many individuals walking around and you can obviously see they suffer from different types of mental issues. First, you see them talking to them self’s all the time. Many of them suffer from delusional issues, bi-polar, all sorts of mental illness’s. I wonder why they city, county, hasn’t done something to f help these people. Provide them with meals, resources that provide assistant’s with housing, work related skills etc etc. There should be a shelter where the homeless can stay and operated by social workers and not volunteers to start helping these individuals who need much help. We talk about millions of dollars regarding the Mental Health Services Act….where is all that mula going? Are top officials pocketing the monay.

  • tedamudgett

    supervisor shawn nelson nor his staff reach out to the poor people never have never well they like steve spernak and miss assemblymember district 65 young o kim only care about the rich people in orange county they can care less about people living on food stamps social security or on the streets they simply only care about there agenda the rich guy thank you have a great DAY 714 396-1447 MY PHONE NUMBER TED A MUDGETT

  • Jon C. Garner

    Perhaps this article will inspire the supervisors. God Bless these volunteer haircutters. They are making a difference.

  • Cynthia Ward

    I’m not going to take the shot at the BoS simply because while I have been pretty passionate on the subject, despite a LOT of study I still feel overwhelmed and clueless about what the real solution is, so I can’t blame anyone else for not being able to wrap their heads around it. BUT…instead of sending a staffer out to the plaza, send them to UTAH where they have DONE the studies, and pinned down real solutions, Use some of the “surplus” funds…let them get a decent hotel, pop for the sandwich meal deal on the plane, and get their butts out to SLC and ask how they have dropped homelessness to near non-existence. Being overwhelmed I understand, it is a HUGE problem and no answer is going to fit all. But the SURPLUS I don’t understand. How can we be pulling in this kind of money and not have at least motel vouchers for every nan woman and child (ESPECIALLY THE KIDS) out there?!
    $119 million this year in state dollars for mental health services, through the Mental Health Services Act,
    $21 million in leftover funds for mental health programs.

    Seriously, we could be buying these people condos. How does it get this broken? again, I don’t know the answers, (on the other hand it’s not my job to have the answers, I am only responsible for burying folks when that time comes.) but COME ON…if the County can’t figure it out, ask for the non-profits already in the trenches what they would do with a million bucks and then give it to them. Mercy House has to do a better job than leaving money in the County treasury for less than one percent return in interest.

  • Michael Becker

    I’m not sure what took so long for a County response. The homeless population in the civic center has increased substantially in the last year. Today, OC Links has set up a table next to the Public Defender’s Office and two workers are available to make referrals. I know OC Links is fairly new and is still looking at ways to expand their services but it seems like they could have been here sooner. It’s took bad it took a public berating to get the ball rolling. Hopefully more will be done.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is another round of “Kick the Ball” in the OC.

    This is all orchestrated in advance–to fit the current hot issue–the media brings up.

    It’s time in the game to shift the heat to the Agency at the Civic Center. “Lambasting” ??? More like with a feather – trust me it doesn’t hurt and the HCA gang knows how to take the hit when it’s their turn.

    These “executives” have become very wealthy off of the public’s misery and know the taxpayers are on the hook to support them in their luxury until they die. They don’t “have” to do anything. Unless they can funnel the clients to contracted programs they personally have an interest in…they just play kick the ball.

    Funny how the HCA gang can’t even put together a coherent explanation to the obvious problem and solution –literally in front of their face –without their well crafted PR statements.

    HCA will now kick the ball back to BOS – because they don’t have any direction on what to do.

  • Jeffrey Dickman

    With direction from the Board of Supervisors staff can move with confidence. Robust and specific direction from the Board will mean a more robust response from staff. And a robust response is needed to move folks from street living into transitional housing (now and into the future). Mercy House (a local non-profit) has several housing facilities in my neighborhood in Historic French Park and French Court, both a few blocks east of the Civic Center. Mercy House is good at providing housing, as one example, and likely can do more if more funds are available.

    I like the Supervisors tone about taking action now. Its a modest start though. Consider doing more. With hundreds homeless, including families, the County should bring all appropriate services to the Civic Center. Let’s also coordinate and deliver to the Civic Center services from anyone else engaged in homeless care. I would be proud if the county, state and others set up some tables and canopies and staffed them with folks trained to help. I suppose it may look bad and only highlight the problem to some, however consider the good and example-setting that will result.

    My wife and I watched the number of homeless grow over the years from 20 or so in the mid-1980’s to a small city. In response we have focused attention on one homeless gentleman. It is a pathetic response on our part as we only raise his diet from bad to slightly above bad. Food, a handshake and some goodwill alone are insufficient. Perhaps there is a more organized approach involving local, state, private and community neighborhood resources (an array of help all at once). The County employees over 17,000 good people. A portion would happily help as would other state, fed and local staffs if asked. Like them, I am ready to work with our Board, and anyone else, to get something done.

    If we are here for any good reason it is, in great part, to serve others.

    (my thanks to the authors for bringing a steady light to this issue)

  • I was certainly very upset by the presentation by the HCA staff Tuesday. The government spends more time differentiating between categories of monies and “plans” when there should be a seamless continuum of care and services to actually provide help to the homeless without all the bureaucratic double speak. My office and the Community Resources Department are working overtime to study a 200 bed homeless shelter in Anaheim. If we can’t provide services to a captive audience in the Civic Center, what makes me think we will be successful if that same population is filtering through a homeless shelter. The County better get its act together and prove it can successfully assist those most in need or it will be time to systematically address the organization on a much larger scale.

    • David Zenger

      Uh, yeah, Todd, but this total disregard has been going on for at least 15 years. You’ve been there for three years (this time around) and Nelson for five. You and your employees on the north side of Building 10 look down on the dysfunctional homeless sprawl every single day. The CEOs office looks down on it too. And finally one piddling EA gets sent out to find out what’s going on during a Board meeting to prove that staff is incompetent?

      That’s pretty disgraceful for people calling themselves Supervisors.

      When you say “the County better get its act together” I have to laugh. Who’s in charge? Oh, right, you are. When the media (it happens, but rarely) uncovers a failure, the responsible party is suddenly an unaccountable abstraction: “The County.”

      As regards the homeless shelter in Anaheim and all your “overtime” being spent on it, I again am drawn to amusement. You are right to be suspicious of your ability to make it work, especially since you chose a really bad location.

      You already have a vacant space under the HCA building you could use; you have an empty Building 16 just sitting there with the power and AC on. Both sites are already right next to the people who need you help. They’ve been there for years. And the best you can come up with is an old office building tucked into an industrial park miles from where any homeless people want or need to be?

      FYI, Mary Hale and her compadres at HCA are a lot more interested in spending Prop 63 funds than they are in how the money gets spent or what happens afterward. However, when she says it was the Board’s desire to not attract attention to the homeless issue in the Civic Center, I believe her. It’s a rather inescapable conclusion.

      The funniest thing is that without Norberto’s outrage you wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

      I know! Let’s blame Janet Nguyen!

      • You could’ve solved it before Supervisor Nelson let you go.

        • David Zenger

          You know, Todd, I think I might have been able to make a dent in the problem if I’d been given a chance. Unfortunately, there was a lot more politicking than governing going on. Apparently there still is.

          I know I could have done a lot better than your constant grandstanding and photo-opping the issue, and then when the chips are down blaming staff that YOU are supposed to be supervising. How noble courageous is that?

          But hey! Thanks for taking precious time off from your “overtime” to bandy words with a nobody like me.

          • No David I’m a strong believer in public discourse but you are consistently insulting to everybody on these pages who you disagree with instead of giving credit to those who are willing at least to engage. How many other electeds get on this site and are willing to put their thoughts out there? The primary reason no one will it’s because of people like you.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Disagreement with your views Mr. Spitzer, is not being “insulting”. If you really understood public discourse you would understand. You have been sarcastic – so how is that much different than “insulting”? And the primary reason other elected’s don’t bother responding is that they have a thick hide and both the truth and opposing views just slide right off.

            Just sitting on the sidelines hoping that high level HCA staff don’t get stomped on for an honest moment of utter confusion…….

          • David Zenger

            Credit to those who engage?

            No credit to the self-infatuated narcissists who can’t bear the thought of negative publicity. Sorry Tood.

            The other electeds are smarter than you are. They, at least, have the perspicacity to shut up up when they’re caught doing nothing. Your idea of public discourse is positive PR. Fire in the district!

            People like me? Insulting the puffed-up, preening, self absorbed clowns like you?

            Man, that’s my mission.

          • OCservant_Leader

            I do appreciate you engaging Supe Spitzer. You aren’t afraid to step outside of your firewall of PR handlers.

            Your colleagues are proving to be cowards because they don’t have what it takes to REALLY engage with the public. The format of (now 3 minute) public presentations at BOS meetings doesn’t count as interaction and is just a carryover of prehistoric times long before the inventions of the telephone and TV.

            I think the days of politicians (and Bureaucrats) being able to hide behind well crafted PR responses is coming to an end (thankfully). I think you are smart enough to realize this and probably enjoy the banter.

            I give you a brownie point.

          • Jacki Livingston

            No, Todd. It is because of YOU, and Nelson, and Nguyen and all of your toadies in the halls. Your minions punish anyone who dares to speak out about corruption and cronyism. You ignore the problems, until you can get a great sound bite. WHERE WERE YOU when I was emailing, and writing, and when my own congressman called Nelson, to try and get one of you to listen? I got a vague email from your chief of staff, and nothing else. My career and life were destroyed by your minions, who still sandbag me with every job application I do. Engage? You don’t engage. You smile and pose, then leave the sewer just as filthy. My clients were comatose and paralyzed. They had no voice. And I got back a quarter of a million. What did you do? Nothing. You just let them destroy any employee who dared to speak. Well, I have news for you. I have every document, every email, everything. And the day you announce for DA? I am going to print them up and pass them out at the fairgrounds. You are such a phony.

        • Kathleen Tahilramani

          Really? This is your reasoned, mature and professional response? It sounds so petty and defensive.Not to mention utterly absurd since there was and never was any true will to solve the “homeless” issue, The HCA leadership was baffled and confused for a good reason.

          Now that Norberto has called out the Board, the response is to shame staff in open session to deflect responsibility. Prior BOS “solutions” have been destined for sure failure (admit it – much to BOS relief). Your NIMBY stance has been exposed.

          Your expenditure of time writing self-serving and rude responses to people who do not align with your views is not leadership – it’s sandbox 101.
          And your last response where you claim that at least you “engage” on-line and that other elected’s don’t because they will be “insulted” is just embarrassing. Exactly how thin skinned and defensive are you and your fellow board members? You engage because you can’t stand a challenge and you must have the last word.

          Having an EA go out during open BOS session to do “research” was just laughable. I have to say you are all great comic relief – but expensive as you waste time and tax dollars. Time to get out of pre-K petty politics and earn respect by action and accomplishments that serve the community.

          Outrageous photo-op’s and sideswiped glory issues are not important or impressive. Case in point: statues and flags. Give me a break. Nothing but lazy low hanging fruit. Give people some credit most of us are not brainless.

        • Jacki Livingston

          What a jerk response. And you want to be DA? No thank you.

      • Right David, your sarcastic “Let’s blame Janet Nguyen” probably has more logic behind it than you let on, Wasn’t she the one that ran the health care agency into the ground, getting rid of board members that had the intestinal fortitude to disagree with her and replacing them with her campaign contributors? This article reminds me of RayGuns statement, The homeless are homeless because they choose to be! I am not positive, but wasn’t he in office way over 15 years ago? Republicans do not care about anyone but their wealthy benefactors, unless the media brings it to their attention, and the Lincoln Club tells them it is ok.

        • David Zenger

          Mr. Dweezle, you are correct. Janet Nguyen was the reason Moorlach couldn’t get some sort of facility built at the old OCTA bus terminal. As usual she was in campaign mode and didn’t want to alienate Santa Ana City Hall. She also squatted over the Civic Center like a mean old hen on her last egg – because it was in her districk.

          Of course Bates and Campbell went along with her, as they always did and later, after 2012 apparently, Spitzer, too. Nguyen must have learned in early childhood that petulance and belligerence would always be rewarded.

          Building 16 could be used as both a homeless services distribution point and for housing in bad weather. When I worked for the County no one would have it. I broached the topic on numerous occasions with other Board offices and with both Community Services and Public Works staff.
          I always got the same non-sequitur response – the building has asbestos!! Tear it down!!

          Anyway, Nguyen already had her hooks into Building 16 as the site of her grand, “glimmering” new admin building – an idiotic plan in which the County would use its financial resources to leverage construction and then lease the building back from the “developer.” It was (and always will be) a titanically stupid idea but it was a marvelous “outsourcing” shakedown moment for the supervisors.

    • Jacki Livingston

      You know what? I call BS! When I wrote you and emailed you, about embezzlement and crime I witnessed in SSA, you did NOTHING. I have the letters and emails, including those from your chief of staff who just buried it. You ignore anything that comes to you from staff. Oh, but you were Johnny-on-the-spot, when your wife assigned your former client to hear an employee’s WC case, weren’t you? You didn’t care that comatose patients in nursing homes were having their patient trust accounts stolen. You didn’t care that these same facilities were double and triple billing the state, with the help of county staff. You didn’t care that the kickbacks were being funneled to the OC leaders. No, you did not care at all! So tell us why we would believe for five hot flash seconds that you would care about a population that doesn’t vote? Stop lying!

    • Jacki Livingston

      …aaaaand a day goes past, and no response. What is wrong with you, Spitzer? You talk a good game about caring for those in need. But you don’t mean a single word of it. When you were elected, I thought there might be some hope. Nguyen was crooked, we all knew that. But there was a shot, with you. I cannot think of a population more in need than the men and women on life support, in substandard nursing homes, who had their entire trust accounts stolen, with the assistance of County employees. I found a quarter of a million dollars, in one home, with a dozen patients. I wrote to you. I emailed you. I spoke to your chief of staff, Martha Ochoa. For SIX YEARS, I endured abuse, assault and the destruction of my career, waiting for a real leader to emerge and do something. The feds came in, the grand jury, but YOU and your cronies stayed silent. You did nothing, not for me, while my career and life were destroyed, and not for my clients or the thousands like them, unable to speak for themselves. You did nothing. Nothing. NOTHING! Now you want to do your fake “Man of the Little People” act? Why? So you can look good on paper? You have tremendous power, a power that you could use to really speak for all of the citizens, and yet you stay silent, as those who dare to speak are savaged and tossed. You make me sick. I say the word that applies here is COWARD. Those homeless people are being given false hope by your false words. But we all know better. YOU show your true colors with childish retorts to commenters, but silence when the issue is serious. Shame on you, for giving these desperate people any false hope that you will act.

    • Michael Chew

      Why don’t you get it right in the Civic Center before shoving a 200 bed homeless shelter in my neighborhood. The Orange-Riverdale Homeowners Alliance was founded to prevent the kind of mess in the Civic Center from moving to our neighborhood. Our organization and BetterSolutions4Anaheim have found you to have been disingenuous with your promise of meaningful dialog with the community surrounding the shelter. You have not responded to any of our correspondence and ignored our invitation to the community forum attended by over 300 community residents seeking answers to legitimate questions regarding the site selection, operation, public safety concerns, etc. If you are ignoring us now, why should we think that you won’t ignor us if the shelter goes in and public safety and quality of life in our area goes out the window?