Editor’s note: For years, Igmar Rodas has been an outspoken member of the homeless community at the downtown Santa Ana Civic Center, and a co-founder of the Civic Center Roundtable, a group that advocates for the rights of homeless people in the area.
On a daily basis over the past week, Rodas visited the Courtyard Transitional Center, the homeless shelter and service center that officially opened on Oct. 5 at the old bus terminal adjacent to the Civic Center. The following is a chronicle of his experiences:
Wednesday, October 5th
The Courtyard Transitional Center in Santa Ana officially opens its doors to provide food, shelter, and services for the homeless community in the Santa Ana Civic Center. As soon as I stepped in I was greeted at the entrance by a couple of staff members who were doing intake registration.
There aren’t as many homeless people there at the time and those who were there weren’t sure how they’d be treated. In December and January, the last time the bus terminal was opened as an emergency shelter, it was administered by Mercy House, and the homeless people’s experience was not great at all.
So when they came last week, they were unsure of what to expect. There are storage units in the form of 32-gallon trash bins, two large trailer containers which store the 1-inch foam mattresses and blankets. Three large tents are also set up for the feeding area. I notice the showers are not on site, but the portable restrooms are. The feeding is done on time, and the staff begins passing out blankets and mattresses as people are getting ready to sleep.
People are allowed to sleep almost anywhere in the complex, not like the previous time with Mercy House. Two homeless people I speak to agree that the atmoshpere of the place has changed, the tension they felt with Mercy House back in December is not there.
There are no security guards on site, but the staff provides security with their presence. One note, many homeless thought the shelter would have 24/7 open access. This is not the case as the main access gate is closed at approximately 10:30 p.m. with no one entering the shelter after the gate closes.
Thursday, October 6th
I’m back at the shelter, and this time I notice more homeless people on site. First homeless man I speak to tells me: “Any enclosed space is a health issue being crowded with animals, I’m better out at the Civic Center in the open.” He’s referring to the fact that shelter allows pets, but there’s no designated area for them to go to the bathroom.
Don, another homeless man, says: “Been nice so far.” Another says: “Wonderful, good shelter.” Orange County Food Bank drops off a couple pallets of food. Also, cubicles for the homeless seeking assistance in finding housing are being set up. As everyone was sleeping, most did not notice that Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do is spending the night at the shelter, right there with the homeless.
Friday, October 7th
This morning, as Do left, he said it was cold even though he had brought a couple of sleeping bags with him. As the afternoon approached the center was more crowded and people seem more relaxed and comfortable. In the afternoon a young pregnant woman named Katie made some good points on issues with the shelter which no one has brought up for discussion:
- Fire extinguisher inspections.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ramp access for the disabled to get to the feeding area.
- On-site medic unit.
- Grassy pet area.
- Fire exits and evacuation plans in case of a major emergency.
- Respect towards others — foul language.
- Bike racks.
I notice there is no system for the blanket distribution and some of the homeless are starting to complain that the blankets issued to them at first are now gone. I find blankets in plastic trash bags with names on duct tape stuck on them. When I asked a staff member from The Midnight Mission who was passing out the blankets, his response was: “We have nothing to do with it.” To me, this means no distribution system for blankets.
Saturday, October 8th
The Midnight Mission staff/volunteers have their daily shift change, and are getting to know more of the homeless who are coming to the terminal. The homeless are more sociable, there has not been any major issues.
Sunday, October 9th
I begin to hear a few complaints about some of the staff not being cordial towards the homeless, as well as other issues including missed feedings and no snacks or coffee. But the Midnight Mission staff are trying to do their best. I count approximately 160 homeless persons sleeping or about to go to sleep.
Monday, October 10th
Everything has been running smoothly so far, issues like lack of toilet paper in the portable restrooms are being handled in a timely manner and the shelter has more county officials visiting.
Tuesday, October 11th
I notice a trailer with showers was being set up at the assigned showering station. As the day goes on I see the shelter becoming more crowded — now approximately 150 or more homeless people on site. Some are sleeping or sitting on mats or blankets, others are having conversations with staff or other homeless people. There have not been any safety concerns except that the side gate where the food providers enter and exit keeps on breaking down.
Wednesday, October 12th
I see more county officials as well as those from other cities coming to check out the shelter. It’s running more smoothly than when it first opened. It is still a work in progress, but can be one of the best projects to help the homeless population in and out of the Civic Center. This was made possible by Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, and credit also goes to City Net and the Midnight Mission. As a Co-founder of the Civic Center Roundtable, I give thanks to Smitty. Thanks to his persistence towards the county officials, we now have the first transitional shelter in Santa Ana.