Supervisors Give Final OK to OC’s First Year-Round Homeless Shelter

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

A public commenter at Tuesday's supervisors meeting, which was attended by hundreds of local residents.

Orange County took a major step Tuesday towards the creation of its first year-round homeless shelter, with county supervisors voting unanimously to finalize the purchase of an industrial building in Anaheim for a 200-bed shelter and service center.

It was the most significant step to date in the county’s effort to establish a year-round shelter, with earlier efforts in Fullerton and Santa Ana collapsing after heavy opposition from local residents.

Chairman Todd Spitzer said his decision was a difficult one, given concerns about how local businesses could be affected, but that there is a larger calling to do “the right thing” because “it matters for our humanity.”

“If we do it here and we do it right and we dispel all the myths [about homeless shelters], we can do this and we can solve the homeless problem in our county,” Spitzer said just before voting at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson noted that the shelter won’t solve everything, but that “it’s the missing ingredient in the current system” in Orange County.

“It’s about time that we have a homeless shelter — it’s an easy vote because it is the right thing to do,” Nelson said.

Larry Haynes of the nonprofit group Mercy House – who many expect will be chosen as the shelter operator – said the stakes are high.

“If we don’t [create a shelter], people will die. It’s really that simple. If we don’t start taking care of the most vulnerable on the streets, they will die,” Haynes said.

County officials say the shelter, at 1000 N. Kraemer Place in Anaheim, would offer stays of up to 30 days per person along with support services like job search help, drug and mental health counseling, connections to veterans services, housing referrals, and other services. It is expected to open in late 2016 at the earliest.

Hundreds of people turned out for the meeting Tuesday, with impassioned pleas coming from residents and advocates on both sides of the issue.

Supporters, who significantly outnumbered opponents, recited religious teachings about caring for the poor, saying the shelter will make a big difference in helping people get off the streets and into housing, social support, and jobs.

Amy Glenaue, a mother of five young kids who lives near the shelter site in the Riverdale neighborhood of Orange, said her Christian faith plays a big role in her support of the shelter.

“If I’m teaching my children, as Jesus did, that every person has dignity and worth” then it’s important to support this, she said.

Greg Walgenbach, director of life, justice and peace at the Catholic Diocese of Orange, recounted Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, during which he urged action on homelessness.

“We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Walgenbach quoted Francis as saying.

Opponents said they were extremely concerned that the shelter would draw more homeless people with drug and mental health issues to area neighborhoods, and said they felt shut out by county and city officials.

“If your vote is yes, you jeopardize the well-being of a strong and stable community,” said April Allegro, adding that the shelter will affect activities at parks and thriving businesses.

“Should an unthinkable occurrence take place” because of the shelter, supervisors will be held accountable politically and morally, she warned.

Opponents also said thousands of people oppose the project, but couldn’t make it to Tuesday’s meeting because it was in the middle of the workday.

“None of us are convinced that this whole process is not rigged,” said Joan Vance, who along with her husband Chris Vance own the Piano Empire store across the street from the proposed shelter site.

County and police officials said they have developed a safety plan to minimize the project’s impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. For example, to cut down on people gathering near the shelter site, the shelter will not accept walk-in appointments, instead having shuttles take homeless people to and from the shelter from other locations.

Police patrols will also be stepped up, said Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada.

Those assurances did not sway Keith McCullough, an attorney with the law firm AlvaradoSmith. McCullough told supervisors the site is “fatally flawed” and that the county failed to follow its legal duty to study alternative sites.

“The law requires that you investigate whether this site is the best alternative versus other alternatives,” McCullough said.

McCullough went on to say that he had previously encouraged supervisors to look at alternatives, yet instead there was “a rush” to this site.

County officials didn’t respond to his comments, which could foreshadow a lawsuit against the project under the California Environmental Quality Act. Opponents also claimed that the shelter would violate city municipal code by putting it within 1000 feet of a residential area.

In all, over 70 people spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

County officials, meanwhile, said the shelter should actually reduce the impacts of homelessness on local businesses and residents.

“Bottom line, if we have a project like this, it’s gonna help the businesses” who are already dealing with homelessness, said Karen Roper, director of the county’s Community Resources department.

“It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Opponents, meanwhile, said they’ll be watching very closely.

“We will not disappear after this vote,” said Allegro.

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

  • Jacki Livingston

    I love the way that the opponents talk about the homeless, as though they are all criminals and deviants. What a crock! Many of the most honorable, decent, caring and compassionate people I have met have been homeless. Many of them are veterans. Many are children. They act like they built some kind of jail or something. The site will no doubt have very strict rules, like SOS in Costa Mesa does, about loitering and such. The lack of decency, humanity and simple morality stuns me…oh, not about the homeless, but the spoiled brats in the community. Grow up, and stop labeling people you don’t deign to know. The location is ideal. How about some of the residents over there volunteer some time and be a part of the design and the rules set up? The multiple little sites would never work, because instead of one NIMBY pity party, there would be twenty. Enough is enough. No matter where they put it, people whine. Suck it up, buttercups. These people are not criminals. They are not deviants. Most of them are just like you, except that one thing or two knocked them off track. Anyone that wants to deny shelter to their fellow man, in the rain and the cold, doesn’t rate up on the human scale for me. Homeless people are just like you…well…they are generally nicer. If I were you folks, I would be more worried about the two swinger party houses in your neighborhood, or the convicted child molester down the block, or the meth dealer on the corner. And, yes, the swinger houses do advertise. Ah, there are none so blind as those who cannot see past their noses…

  • jcbl

    Why not move them into the ARTIC transportation center. That way at least someone would be using it.

    • Jacki Livingston

      LOL

  • LFOldTimer

    Is there even one of you who truthfully believed that they would be denied a 3rd time and look like total morons? ha. Nothing other than chaos in the streets would have altered their decision. But most of us ordinary mortal commoners are too civilized for that. So they dumped a 200-bed homeless shelter at one location in OC to house all the OC homeless that will cause chaos for 100’s of residents and businesses in the area (which is an uncivilized act unto itself) – but then they have the power and the privileged perogative to perform uncivil acts on you. ha. That’s just the way it works in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The civilized way to solve the homeless problem would be to organize 15-20 much smaller homeless shelters throughout the county so that all of us could have some skin in the game. This should not be an Anaheim problem. All of us should carry some of the load. And with the correct leaders in office that task is certainly doable. Oh, it would take a little more planning and energy. But laziness abounds and the leaders we have specialize in quick fixes that causes inordinate pain to the targeted select few. And the great majority don’t care because it’s not it their backyard – it’s in somebody else’s backyard – and that’s acceptable. Do you think there woudl have been any chance of this shelter site being approved within a half-mile of a Supervisor’s home? Of the CEO’s home? Of County Counsel’s home? Of a Chief-of-Staff’s home? ha. A snowball’s chance in Hades. The approval of this homeless shelter essentially does 4 things:
    1. It gives the false impression that the execs care about the homeless.
    2. It’ll clear the homeless from the Civic Center (out of sight out of mind).
    3. It turns a Santa Ana problem into an Anaheim problem.
    4. It gives the pols some election season chest-beating bragging rights
    for transferring a problem from one section of the County to another.

  • David Zenger

    The only winner I see here is PringleCorp which has its greedy eye on the ten acres off Carl Karcher Way where a facility should have been built since the land was bought for that purpose. The Kraemer site was always just a diversion.

    Bravo, one and all.