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.
For the past several weeks, Rodas has reported on 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 good feelings I had for the Courtyard Transitional Center when it opened in early October have faded, and now I’m increasingly disturbed with what is going on.
When the center opened, it was a joy to see consistent food service as well as clean toilets, showers, laundry facilities, storage bins and bicycle parking for the many people. There was even an entertainment area.
Also, disabled ramps are in place at various locations and a safe container is placed near the entrance on the inside of the shelter so drug users can throw away their dirty needles.
That’s the good news.
However, as the weeks have worn on there have been troubling changes in how the staff of the Midnight Mission, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that the county contracted with to run the shelter, interacts with the homeless population.
By the third week it had become obvious that staff members were showing less respect towards the homeless people who had come to the shelter as a safe haven from harassment from Santa Ana Police Department at the Civic Center. Also the staff started wearing vests that had the word “SECURITY” on them.
Several homeless people I’ve interviewed are now saying they don’t stay at the shelter because of the unprofessionalism of the staff, and for health and safety reasons. Specifically, mats are not being properly cleaned after people sleep on them.
At the beginning of November, I began interviewing people to document their complaints. As interviewed people, it became apparent that a lot of them were not from the Civic Center. On a daily basis, police and other officials are dropping people off from other places, including: Garden Grove, Anaheim, and Laguna Beach. As a result, the center is regularly at capacity.
I wrote a report on the situation for the New Santa Ana blog. That’s when I started getting in trouble with the higher ups. On Nov. 3, Doris Starling, the center’s supervisor, came up to me, grabbed me by the arm and escorted me out.
“I read your article,” Starting said. “You’re not a nice person.”
After she had brought me out to the sidewalk, she turned to the staff members at the registration table and said: “He is not welcome back.”
I’m not the only one who’s been kicked out – now there is the important question of how people who are not allowed in the center will receive services, most importantly how will they be fed?
“We’re starving out there,” said one homeless woman who visited the Voice of OC offices Monday.
When I told Bao Nguyen, the Mayor of Garden Grove, about my First Amendment rights being violated, and the overall aggressiveness of the staff, he decided to come for a visit on Nov. 7. When Nguyen and I walked up to the registration table, one of the staff at the table pointed to me and said, “you are not allowed.”
Nguyen said “he is my guest,” and introduced himself as the mayor of Garden Grove. They still wouldn’t let us in until Starling showed up with Susan Price, who is the county’s homeless czar. That’s when Nguyen finally got his tour.
As the co-founder of the Civic Center Roundtable, I am proud of the work we’ve done to push the county to open the center. It is providing services that make life a bit easier for homeless people.
But all of the good work that has been done will go to waste if the Midnight Mission staff continues to be disrespectful to the people and the center becomes a dumping ground for homeless people throughout the county.