On November 17, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to spend at least $10 million on a permanent, 200-bed homeless shelter at 1000 Kraemer Place in Anaheim near the border with Orange, a location overwhelmingly opposed by affected residents and businesses.

We urge a different path.

The County Has Eroded Community Trust

A majority of Anaheim and Orange homeowners living in close proximity to the proposed 200 bed permanent homeless shelter at 1000 N. Kraemer Place, Anaheim are dismayed with the heavy handed approach the County is taking to push their latest shelter proposal through. From the time the County announced their intent to purchase the Kraemer site, residents have requested a meaningful dialog with the County and their respective City Councils to address legitimate concerns of placing a shelter so close to homes, parks, schools, and the Santa Ana River and River trail. To our consternation, the community’s voices are being ignored and downplayed by those sworn to represent their constituents.

The County vowed it would have a meaningful dialogue with the community and address legitimate concerns over the probable increase in the number homeless in the area. They promised three community forums to provide specific answers to concerns of increased crime, drug use, and the deterioration in the quality of life and property values in the residential areas near the shelter. Yet, the county only held two meetings, both of which in partisan locations – churches in favor of the shelter. These meetings were stacked with people from outside the affected neighborhoods representing various religious organizations and homeless advocacy groups in favor of the shelter. In the first area residents were not allowed a question and answer session. Instead they were sent to information tables to submit their questions of 3×5 cards to be reviewed by some county staffer. No concrete answers were provided. The second meeting only provided residents 30 seconds to ask questions or make comments due to the large contingent of churches and advocacy groups. Residents in the area of the shelter hosted their own town hall meeting attended by over 300 people at the Anaheim Embassy Suites. An advance invitation was sent our County Supervisor, Todd Spitzer, to address our concerns, sadly the invitation was ignored and no response was received from his office.

The County has made little effort to encourage community comment on the shelter operations plan and other community impact reports. Documents were buried in the county website, and were not posted to the official Kraemer Place Shelter information website until after the public comment period ended. The County claims residents will not be impacted by the 200-bed shelter, but their own study states the Kraemer Place shelter “would result in greater opportunities for crimes to be committed” and “officers dispatched to calls for service associated with the proposed emergency temporary shelter would reduce the number of available officers on patrol” and “neighboring parks and school playgrounds may expect an increase in transient/homeless activity during daytime and evening hours.”

The County has been unable to control the homeless encampments set up in the Santa Ana Civic Center yet has assured us in their “community forums” that our neighborhoods will not be negatively impacted. They offer promises but not the assurance of this. They will not publically commit they will close the shelter if it negatively impacts the residents and businesses in the area. Further, Anaheim and Orange police in lieu of arresting and/or incarcerating the homeless for violations of the law (theft, property damage, trespassing, camping, public defecation, public intoxication, drug possession, etc.) they issue meaningless citations that are ignored.

The community has offered viable alternatives to this bad location. However the County appears more interested in their receiving of $1,000,000 from the cities of Anaheim and Fullerton to purchase this site.

We are dismayed that our voices are being ignored and drown out by the County’s fervor to pursue their latest shelter location regardless of its poor location and the negative impact to nearby residents and businesses.

Real Community Impacts

The County claims residents and businesses won’t notice there’s a 200-bed homeless shelter in our midst. This defies common sense. The County’s own study states the Kraemer Place shelter “would result in greater opportunities for crimes to be committed” and “officers dispatched to calls for service associated with the proposed emergency temporary shelter would reduce the number of available officers on patrol in other portions of the [Anaheim]…” The report says “neighboring parks and school playgrounds may expect an increase in transient/homeless activity during daytime and evening hours.”

Chris Vance’s piano business is across the street from the proposed homeless shelter. While the County has given sideways acknowledgement that the Kraemer Shelter harms his piano store’s viability, the basic attitude is his business – and really, other nearby businesses and neighborhoods – are collateral damage in the campaign to end homelessness.

The Anaheim Police Department is unable to adequately responding to existing crime problems stemming from transients and parolees from the state Corrections Department parole office a few blocks away. The County promises there will be no shelter “overflow” issues, and that shelter staff will prevent loitering. But dealing with even a single loiterer requires several police officers, and shelter staff has no such powers.

There Are Alternatives

There are alternatives. The Illumination Foundation’s rapid re-housing approach has been very successful and less costly than conventional strategies like the “big shelter” model. In fact, back in March, co-founder Paul Cho advised the Board of Supervisors that multiple, smaller shelters throughout Orange County was the better strategy, saying, “I think, based on the past experience, the communities do not seem to want a large shelter that is in their community.” Indeed, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is tilting away from the big shelter model and toward rapid re-housing.

However, if the County is bent on a big shelter, it should prove the concept at the Civic Center, where the homeless problem is worst. There is a building at 615 W. Civic Center Drive approximately the same size as the 1000 Kraemer Place building while costing $1.2 million less. It is mere feet from the Civic Center homeless population and the county social services with which the County wants to connect them. The County’s inability to deal with the homeless encampment at its door step is a major reason residents and businesses near the Kraemer Place site mistrust County assurances. Successfully operating a 200-bed multi-service center at the Civic Center would enable the County to credibly claim it can do the same thing in other parts of OC.

There remain other properties available that do not require purchase. The City of Anaheim purchased the Karcher site in Anaheim, at Harbor Blvd. and the 91 Freeway, specifically as the site for a homeless shelter – a location which homeless advocates have judged far superior to the Kraemer Place location.

Anaheim also owns a seven-acre parcel on Anaheim Way by the 5 Freeway and one block away from the Salvation Army’s rehab facility. While the city has put this parcel on the market, it can also take it off that market. Absent the need to shell out $4.5 million to purchase a building, the $10 million the County proposes spending simply to open the doors of a big shelter would suffice for either of these sites.

We all support assisting the homeless resume their place as productive members of society. We believe 1000 Kraemer Place is a poor location, and the County’s conduct has given us little basis for faith. However, rather than waging a series of divisive community battles in the Ahab-like pursuit of a “big shelter” strategy, why not explore more effective, less expensive alternatives that can be implemented more quickly? Wouldn’t it be better to move forward with assisting the homeless with many small shelters rather than force-feed a big shelter to communities that don’t want them?

Anaheim businessman Chris Vance is the owner of Piano Empire, located next to the proposed homeless shelter. Orange resident Michael Chew is founder of the Orange-Riverdale Homeowners Alliance and a leader of BetterSolutions4Anaheim.com.

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