Orange County has a homelessness crisis. There are an estimated 4,500 people living on the streets every night; living rough, as the English put it. They cover themselves with cardboard on the sidewalk or hole up in stairwells or sleep in their cars.
They are people down on their luck or addicted or mentally ill or all of the above. They are not gaming the system. They are too desperate and destitute to do so.
There are a lot of good people trying to remedy this problem, but Orange County has a history of a lack of compassion for the poor. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan signed the McKinney Vento Act, which gave priority housing on surplus federal property to the homeless. The Orange County Rescue Mission was able to build a new facility on the site of the Tustin helicopter base, but any and all plans to house the homeless on the almost 5,000 acre El Toro MCAS site were kiboshed by a combination of NIMBY activists, politicians and developers.
Some other cities cart their homeless off to Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. And now Santa Ana and Orange are trying to move their homeless elsewhere. The Santa Ana City Council has been wrestling with the problem on the Civic Center Plaza for 20 years. There is a whole community living in the riverbed in hovels and tents just off the 22 and 5 freeways in Orange. And most people just don’t want to hear about it.
Moving the problem doesn’t solve the problem. There is a tangled mess of homelessness, addiction, incarceration and mental illness that has to be dealt with from all of these aspects. Our jail is the largest mental health facility in the county and our emergency rooms are overrun.
The social and societal costs are huge. Fragmented families, out of control budgets, and crime are the toxic fallout of not dealing with this problem and of not coordinating our efforts. It is an election year and too many times politicians want to be seen “doing something”.
We have a sympathetic and concerned Board of Supervisors. We have excellent social services and outreach. We are one of the richest places on earth, and there is a growing movement to try and make homelessness a thing of the past. Let’s try to fix the problem instead of giving our brothers and sisters on the street the bum’s rush.
Matt Holzmann is a long time resident of Orange County (45 years), currently lives in Trabuco Canyon and is a high technology manufacturing expert and consultant. He also is a family member of individuals with mental illness and addiction.
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