Supervisor Spends a Night at Bus Terminal Homeless Shelter

Supervisor Andrew Do spent the night last Thursday at the abandoned bus terminal in downtown Santa Ana that the county has converted into a homeless shelter and service center.

Do's First District includes the heart of Santa Ana, where the homeless population at the county Civic Center has reached crisis proportions. The bus terminal shelter, which is adjacent to the Civic Center and opened last week, is the county's short-term response to years of complaints about the situation from homeless advocates, county workers and the media.

Officially called the Courtyard Transitional Center, it is a place where homeless people can eat, use restroom facilities, store their belongings, talk to county Social Service Agency workers about services available to them, and bed down for the night.

Do, who is running for reelection this year and has been among the most vocal supervisors in favor of the center, decided Thursday to head down to the facility to see for himself how the new operation was running.

He arrived around 9:50, ten minutes before the shelter closes its gates for the evening.

Do said the process was "painless" and staff from The Midnight Mission, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit running the center, only asked for his name.

"The funny thing is, I actually went there hungry because I didn't have time to have dinner," Do said.  "I had to ask for something to eat, so they found some crackers for me from their stash...for people who come after meal hours."

Do said the operation was orderly and the staff -- even before they realized who he was, treated him in a "courteous and welcoming" manner.

"I never once felt fear for my safety," he said.

Do said he was among 85 to 90 people who slept at the shelter Thursday night. By Sunday, there were 148 people staying overnight, he said. The shelter has a capacity of 300 beds.

Do slept on a mat on the floor with two blankets given to him by shelter staff. By 4 a.m., the terminal was very cold and windy, he said.

"I learned a lot," Do said. "We have  a large portion [of the terminal] that doesn't have overhead cover, so when the rainy season comes, it might limit the ability to make use of the place."

Although the service center has been largely received as a positive step to help the homeless while the county works on long-term solutions, some have been critical of the experiment and whether it will only encourage nonprofits to drop off homeless individuals at the bus terminal in Santa Ana.

Others are worried that the conditions at the bus terminal are subpar.

Asked about those criticisms, Do bristled and said the Transitional Center -- now open for less than a week -- is not meant to be the only solution.

"But we’re still getting a lot of the amenities up and running, shower a facility, and laundry...so it doesn’t give us much time to do construction," said Do. "So let’s not use words like criticism."

He said the service center is an unprecedented action by the county, and part of a comprehensive plan to tackle homelessness countywide.

"Nobody has done this before, so no one is going to have an answer," said Do. "And I believe this is a good beginning."

Members of the public give feedback at a town hall event this Saturday at Board of Supervisors' hearing room at the Hall of Administration, 333 West Santa Ana Boulevard.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.