As Orange County leaders continue their so far unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce homelessness, one county supervisor is proposing that hiring a "homeless czar" is an important next step.
Supervisor Andrew Do said he’s been studying the homelessness issue, and has found a need to address it in a way that views each homeless person in “his or her totality.”
To make this happen, Do believes a single point person is needed to keep track of the plethora of county services and figure out how to improve their effectiveness.
He noted at last week's regular supervisors' meeting that various county departments interact with homeless people – such as public health, social services, housing, probation department, or public defender’s office – but don’t often coordinate with one another.
“All of these things, even though they are connected…they have always been dealt with kind of in their own silos,” he said.
One department doesn’t necessarily know what the others are doing, he added. For example, if someone gets incarcerated, an agency might not know what happened to them, and that person loses benefits and starts “from square one,” needing to re-qualify for benefits and costing extra taxpayer dollars.
“I have a hard time wrapping my head around all that they do” and all the sources of funding, Do said. “We need someone to help us get on top of” all of that.
The homeless population at the county Civic Center has continued to balloon in recent years, with well over 300 people now living there in what is effectively a makeshift encampment.
Until recently, county staff had been told by supervisors not to do things that could bring more people to the area.
Meanwhile, county officials have struggled to establish a year-round homeless shelter, amid strong distrust in communities of the county’s ability to manage the impacts.
Two such efforts have failed, amid heavy opposition from neighbors in Fullerton and Santa Ana.
And the supervisors' current shelter effort – for a site in northern Anaheim – is also facing significant pushback from residents and business owners. Critics have pointed to the lack of progress in the Civic Center as evidence of the county's inability to properly oversee service delivery and manage the impacts of homelessness on surrounding areas.
Faced with that pressure, supervisors have been focusing on the Civic Center, telling staff to step up their efforts to connect people with existing services. That has already led to additional outreach at the Civic Center.
On Tuesday, Do asked county CEO Frank Kim to bring forward the coordinator position at the next quarterly budget update, which typically takes place in November.
The position, which would report directly to the county CEO, would monitor the various services, help set up and track performance metrics, and have staff who track individual homeless people.
The idea would be that after six months or a year, county supervisors can go back and see how many people the county was able to get off streets or into treatment.
“We are in a much stronger financial position now to deal with [homelessness],” Do said, adding that there’s political will among supervisors to address the issue.
No other supervisors spoke about Do's proposal, which came during board member comments at the end of the meeting.
Do's proposal follows similar efforts in major cities such as Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti hired a homeless policy director last year.