Santana: Orange County Has a New Homeless Czar

Homelessness in Orange County has a new Czar.

Meet Susan Price.

And boy does she have a full plate waiting…

Homeless activists across Orange County have been ringing alarm bells for years as the ranks of those living on the streets swelled and in the cases of far too many, death showed up before we did.

Despite the fact that our board of supervisors in recent months has started to take victory laps around the Hall of Administration – touting all their recent progress on homelessness (a few buildings authorized/purchased) – there’s still a long way to go.

We need leadership.

Price – who starts her job May 27 – comes to us from Long Beach, where she has made a name for herself by making significant progress on moving homeless veterans off the streets with an entrepreneurial approach.

Here, supervisors – especially Supervisor Andrew Do who got the position created – deserve credit for finally moving the ball.

Price is today (especially after this column) probably informing colleagues that she’s headed south to OC – where she’s been spotted recently quietly introducing herself.

County officials have yet to make a formal announcement.

Their speed matches the lethargic and often uneven pace of the last year.

Facilities – like an abandoned bus terminal are purchased but left empty during rains. Supervisors also bought another building for a homeless shelter, located on Anaheim/Orange border, but put so many arbitrary rules on it’s authorization that it’s questionable whether it will even work.

Last week, we heard from Supervisor Shawn Nelson that because a shelter site is in the works, the temporary National Guard armory site in Fullerton should be shut down.

That would mean by taking action, supervisors might have actually reduced available beds.

The blank look on the face of County executive Julia Bidwell at the dais when Nelson pushed her on the closing of the armory site says it all.

You are not prepared. You have not really done anything in the last year.

You’re not ready to start closing anything.

Just look around the civic center grounds in downtown Santa Ana.

The problem is just growing.

Most recently, supervisors seem to have introduced a new plan – a bit Trumpish in spirit.

Just put up a barrier, call it construction, and push the angry crowd without shelter further onto the City of Santa Ana’s section of the civic center.

Nelson recently gave an ominous warning about what was coming from the dais, taking on City Councilman Vince Sarmiento – who himself recently criticized county supervisors for a tepid response to homelessness.

Sarmiento and his colleagues will now be forced to come up with their own plan because half a tent village was just evicted from the county side of the civic center in recent weeks.

While I don’t doubt that the work is part of a schedule upgrade to civic center power facilities, I do question why there was no planning for the human aspects of just shutting down half a homeless squatters camp.

I just hope people don’t get hurt in the midst of all this harsh pushing around, without much information, much less any kindness or compassion for what has become America’s angriest campground – full of people with mental conditions.

From what I am hearing Price knows what she’s doing and supervisors picked appropriately a person with entrepreneurial skills who has actually built a real response in Long Beach – based on the concept of “continuum of care” concept pioneered in Utah.

Here in Orange County, Price will get a chance to really step up and run her own shop.

Supervisors need to give her a shop to run.

Instead of habitually coming up with the same solution – outsource the contract to some non-profit provider – they need to build their own abilities.

It’s ok – even as Republicans – to have a public sector that functions – and isn’t piecemealed into a bunch of disconnected contracts.

Consider how that decentralized approach worked out in Dana Point Harbor – where since the place was turned into it’s own agency it has apparently floated off into a sea of conflicts of interests with consultants and freebies like hotel stays for insiders.

For once, I’d like to see when one of us has a question on homelessness – there’s an official who can stand up and offer a plan, a response…

Sheriff Hutchens & Manager Ratings

Speaking of responses, keep an eye over at the Sheriff’s department this week as Sheriff Sandra Hutchens sent off a scathing letter last week to Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s President Tom Dominguez for the ratings in the union’s second annual manager survey.

Hutchens does not like what the union published about managers.

“I am not questioning AOCDS and their board of directors right to survey its members; what I am questioning is the manner in which they present it,” Hutchens wrote. “The comments they chose to highlight are more like what one would hear on a 6th grade playground – not from a professional organization.”

Hutchens said the report was full of “hateful and immature quotes.”

For the most part, many managers got good ratings. But for those with bad ratings, the union allowed deputies working for those managers to go public.

For some, like Asst. Sheriff Linda Solorza, the results weren’t good.

“Never have I heard anyone say a good thing about her,” was the lead quote.

Jail operations, so much in the news lately, had a low rating for Capt. Jon Briggs over at Theo Lacy jail with lead quotes from deputies that read “a proven liar who does not back his deputies or sergeants.”

Hutchens wasted no time in putting the union on notice that she stands by those managers.

“The managers and executives, all of whom I have promoted, possess leadership skills and integrity and have compassion for their employees. I know who they truly are at their core, and so do they,” Hutchens wrote.

“I know in my heart that the vast majority of the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department are too professional to have engaged in some of the more personal and egregious comments printed in this ‘leadership’ survey.”

Union leaders were out of town and not reachable.

To see the comments in the AOCDS leadership survey, you’ll have to find a paper copy of the union’s magazine, The Courier, because their online link is members-only. I hear the link may go live once members have checked it out.

(Editors Note: Survey is on AOCDS website now.)

Here’s how the union’s board members described the report in their introduction.

“It is crucial to document the performance of management. The data can help identify problems as well as highlight managers with superior leadership skills. The survey found that the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation has both.”