Santana: A Shelter Isn’t a Strategy

Keep your eyes on them…especially when they agree to do something.

That should be the mantra for engaging Orange County supervisors on critical issues of the day, like homelessness.

We could carve it onto the county seal just above the supervisors’ dais, a new twist on the current bid to emblazon every dais in America with “In God We Trust.”

Watch this Tuesday, as the all-Republican Board of Supervisors moves forward with plans to build a year-round homeless shelter in Anaheim, a historic first for Orange County.

After months of outreach, supervisors will hold a hearing Tuesday at the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana at 11 a.m. to finalize plans to partner with the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton and Brea to purchase a facility at 1000 N. Kramer Place in Anaheim for the establishment of a permanent homeless shelter.

There will be all sorts of back slapping once their historic vote is tallied.

But remember a shelter is not a strategy.

These are the same board of supervisors that just recently unanimously supported a directive from Supervisor Andrew Do to establish a county homeless czar because there’s no real county strategy on the issue.

It’s the same board that just last week voted to expand an expensive internal oversight auditor at the Sheriff’s Department – soundly criticized by all sides for lack of focus or public outreach – to a broad array of government departments, like the district attorney, public defender, probation and social services…all in the name of public outreach.

Under the chairmanship of Supervisor Todd Spitzer – now entering its last two months – there have been lots of votes and directives on big issues from the dais.

Ethics panels, law enforcement oversight, animal shelters, homelessness…

It’s the follow-through that often seems to, well, fall through.

With county term limits, our politicians are increasingly focused on their next job – for Spitzer that’s district attorney in 2018 – so there’s little incentive for focusing on real sustained change at the county level.

And with the fifth floor at the County Hall of Administration increasingly becoming a way station for the state legislature (we currently have three ex-supervisors as state senators), it’s likely that we’re going to see more and more historic votes to do major things that look really substantive but aren’t or much worse, actually enable boondoggles.

Taxpayers need to demand more than just big votes.

Don’t let supervisors tell you just that because they vote to buy a building that they have anything resembling a strategy for combating homelessness.

Note that Tuesday’s vote won’t do anything to solve the hundreds of homeless people aimlessly congregating at the civic center.

It will be the height of irony that day to watch supervisors look out at opponents of the homeless shelter from behind their dais and tell them they can’t be NIMBYs, they have to pitch in for the collective good. They need to trust in government.

They’ll remind nervous neighbors about all the public outreach done on the county plan to parachute a homeless services site into their area. They’ll promise that the county plans on staying focused on the site to ensure the best transition.

Yet how will these Anaheim residents react to those assurances, after showing up and seeing what the county civic center looks like?

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If this is what the county civic center looks like – an area historically zoned for institutional uses like homeless services and choc full of government agencies – how are Anaheim shelter opponents to be calmed, much less inspired?

Supervisors need to start focusing on their own backyard as a way of showing other jurisdictions what is possible, not what is deplorable.

Right now, the only policy leadership supervisors are showing nearby city leaders is how to look the other way while your lawn turns into a lawless campsite.

They could instead demonstrate how to take public spaces – like the abandoned Orange County Transportation Agency bus terminal – and transform them into organized check-in centers, with an ability to store items, sleep, bathe, use the toilet and work on a plan to get back to self-sufficiency or some sort of public-assisted stability.

If they had done their homework – the bus shelter has been empty for a half dozen years – supervisors could proudly walk any doubter at Tuesday’s hearing right across the street to the old abandoned bus terminal and show them the county expertise in handling homeless outreach, sheltering and transitioning.

Instead, county supervisors will greet Tuesday’s guests with metal detectors.