County Approves Homeless Services Center in Former Bus Depot

Kaitlin Washburn for Voice of OC

The abandoned bus terminal in Santa Ana that is now slated to be used for a homeless services center.

In a move they described as a major step toward addressing the Civic Center homelessness crisis, Orange County supervisors on Tuesday approved no-bid contracts to turn a former downtown Santa Ana bus depot into a homeless services center.

The Los Angeles-based non-profit The Midnight Mission will receive up to $1.4 million over the next year to run a 300-bed shelter and service center at the now-shuttered Santa Ana Transit Terminal adjacent to the Civic Center, which is home to a 400-plus-person homeless encampment. The goal is to have it up and running by next Thursday.

The so-called “Courtyard Transitional Center” will include 24/7 security, along with “training services, permanent housing options, health care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and veteran assistance services,” according to a news release from Supervisor Andrew Do, who led the push among supervisors for the service center.

“Understand that this is historical,” Do said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting. “This effort is the culmination of many years of the county working to get to this point.”

In its proposal, The Midnight Mission – which operates a homeless shelter in Los Angeles’ Skid Row – said its goal in Orange County is “to be low barrier and engagement rich to provide people experiencing homelessness a pathway to service connections, healthcare, housing and stability.”

Under Tuesday’s unanimous contract approvals, the Long Beach-based nonprofit City Net will also manage nonprofit organizations that distribute food and other assistance at the Civic Center. It will receive up to $300,000 over the next two years.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he agreed with Do that this is “a major event” in the county’s history. “Our work will help these people regain their lives,” he said.

Supervisors’ Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said the goal is to serve homeless people and eventually get them into housing. “It’s kind of a stepping-stone process,” she said.

Homeless advocate Lou Noble told board members that given the scale of the homelessness issue, the new center is “gonna be just a little bit of a bandage on a big wound.”

As the Civic Center homeless population has ballooned in recent years, there has been a rising chorus of complaints about an unsafe and unsanitary environment in the public plaza.

Reports of assaults and other crimes are up significantly over the past year. And last month Santa Ana police shot a homeless man in the Civic Center during an altercation. Richard Gene Swihart later died from his injuries.

Public health advocates have also been sounding alarms, with warnings that the crowded conditions and lack of adequate bathrooms are attracting vermin and causing the spread of disease.

Until recently, county and Santa Ana officials have mostly clashed and over possible solutions and who should shoulder the responsibility.

But in late August, KFI-AM radio hosts John and Ken aired a series of highly critical shows on the situation that forced city and county officials to act.

The radio hosts lambasted both Do and Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez – who are competing against each other for Do’s seat in the November election – for not doing more to clean up the area. John and Ken noted that hypodermic needles and human feces are often found at the Civic Center, including needles at the city’s main public library.

Do committed during the Aug. 31 show to having the county start providing homeless services in the abandoned bus terminal within 30 days if the city doesn’t stand in the way.

That same day, Santa Ana Councilman Vincent Sarmiento announced that he and Martinez had co-authored a proposal urging the county to do just that, which was approved by the full council on Sept. 6. Also that day, county supervisors approved getting the service center up and running and trying to coordinate with Santa Ana within 30 to 45 days.

The county did not conduct a competitive bidding process for the Midnight Mission and City Net contracts, and county documents indicate that no other potential vendors were contacted. There was not enough time to do a bidding process within the board’s 30-day directive on Sept. 6.

The county finalized its purchase of the bus terminal in May, but there were no public plans to use it for homeless services until Do’s announcement on the Aug. 31 John and Ken show. County spokeswoman Jean Pasco said discussions with The Midnight Mission began after the Sept. 6 board directive to convert the bus terminal.

Do said The Midnight Mission “has a great track record” in LA when it comes to serving homeless people, including veterans and people with mental health issues.

He also said the county is planning a homelessness forum at the Hall of Administration on Oct. 15, which will focus on “a comprehensive solution” to homelessness in Orange County. There will also be a special study session for supervisors about the issue on Oct. 18.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    If they choose to “regain their lives”. Key word, choose.

    Let’s be honest here. Some, many, of these folks want to be street people and just camp out, commune, hang out, no real care or responsibility in the world. They do not, for whatever reason, want “home” the way we see home, security and all.

    I applaud the going to bat for them, I really do. And if 1% of who you target change, all the better. I ride my bike for health, and as a writer, talk, interview them often. Everyone has a story.

    This is no easy fete.

  • Jacki Livingston

    This is the stupidest move in the County’s history. Historical is right; ranking up there with Trump’s performance on his first debate with Clinton (he took the bronze medal in a two person race). There is no Social Services Agency office within reasonable distance to this property. Idiots.

    • John Claxton

      I am sure there is plenty of room there to designate a space for a social worker or two. At least they are doing something. Let’s see what happens!

      • Jacki Livingston

        The best way to anticipate the conduct of any person or entity is based on their past conduct. Did Spitzer and the Gang o’ Five, and management, suddenly start spewing fairy dust and unicorn glitter from their rears? Did they suddenly become something different from the do nothings that they have always been? If so, I haven’t heard anything about it. There will be studies and committees and meeting with expensive food and coffee and then nothing will change. Please…

        • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

          Perhaps. But things have to change. I mean, the street people are taking over the asylum.

          Homeless are one group. Open to getting help, assistance. Street people chose to not get help and like living like it’s summer camp all year long. Don’ t know why they chose that. It’s human mystery.

          Hopefully all the money pouring in to this effort will help find, at the very least, some evidence based answers.

          • Jacki Livingston

            You guys do not see that the politicos, with Norberto’s help, have everyone thinking that they are finally doing something to help the homeless. That distracts all of you from what is going on with the nursing homes. Bait and switch, babe. When they get all that covered and clean, then they will shuffle off to something else to hide how they have wasted money and time on failed homeless programs. Don’t kid yourself, they do it well, and they do it with the full help of the press, including VoC.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            VoC … a nursing home story, exposé?

          • Jacki Livingston

            *snort* Hear that echo of silence? Yeah, that is the lack of caring. The nursing home situation in OC is so bad, I pity anyone who has a stroke or other event happen that would put them at the mercy of a nursing home. There are a few that are good…very few. But many are owned by literal criminals who are under investigation by everyone from the feds to the state, unscrupulous organized crime bosses. Average payment from the state for nursing home care for one person is 7 to 28 grand per month, depending on level of care. That thar is some biiiiig money, kids. SacBee did an expose of one of the ‘chains’ that own some of these places, and the guy is nothing more than a mob boss. They get paid a fortune, but they hire untrained, unvetted illegals, largely from Phillipines or Indonesia, some Mexico, who neglect and abuse patients horribly. A federal lawsuit against one chain was settled out of court for about a mill, for 18 facilities and hundreds of patients, and when I asked the attorney for plaintiffs why it was so small, he said, literally, that he could never discuss that case, for his safety. The Social Services Agency is in bed with these unscrupulous and criminal elements, kicking back large sums of money in bribes and to the elected officials like Todd Spitzer, John Moorlach and Janet Nguyen. I kid you not, this is a massive maze of corruption and evil, and the longer I tried to hold onto my career, the worse the situation got.