Credit: Norberto Santana Jr.

This coming Thanksgiving holiday, many homeless people living around downtown Santa Ana’s civic center are going to have their most hopeful meal in awhile.

Following a rising tide of engagement from activists, community members, the courts, the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) and the ACLU, Orange County supervisors finally stepped up and took bold action in the month before the November election.

County officials took an old abandoned and empty bus terminal they purchased last year and turned it into a homeless transition center.

Since then, hundreds have found a safe place to sleep, store their stuff, get a decent shower and even get some government assistance. A few have already been placed in housing and others are on their way, sleeping inside small cubicles at what is now called the Courtyard Transition Center. Feedings for area homeless are more normalized and the center has a much more sane feel than the alternative — the lawless tent city stretched out across the civic center grounds.

After local media publicly called out both county and Santa Ana officials on the dire situation earlier this year, setting up the Courtyard Transition Center certainly aided the re-election of Supervisor Andrew Do, who represents the First District.

Beyond the obvious boost for the incumbent, I warned last month that supervisors also really needed to think long term here, particularly focusing on using the county resources that taxpayers have already provided to expand services in the most fiscally accountable and programmatically sound manner.

Yet I’m starting to wonder whether this board of supervisors is ever going engage in long-term thinking – beyond their own political careers.

The impacts are already showing up.

We’re all starting to hear troubling chatter from the Courtyard Transition Center about shortages of supplies, complaints about unsanitary conditions, bad customer service and access issues, as well as a few fights breaking out and homeless from outside the civic center area being sent into Santa Ana.

The OC Weekly has delved into some of the issues at the center and our own news staff is also reporting on what we’ve all been hearing.

County officials need to refocus here.

Just hiring a nonprofit like the Midnight Mission, as effective as they may be, and then leaving them alone, especially with a $1.4 million budget allocation, without major county resources or involvement won’t cut it.

That kind of limited approach seems almost worse than doing nothing and will likely create a Skid Row area in Santa Ana if county supervisors don’t move fast to establish a regional plan and institute a multi-faceted approach.

This all requires a very coordinated response involving public safety, health care, social services, public works, just to name a few.

Our homeless czar, Susan Price, already laid out that kind of collaborative vision.

So why isn’t the county engaging the workers taxpayers have already paid for?

Taxpayers can’t just rely on non-profits to perform core government functions.

The impacts at the bus shelter are already proof of that.

We need a strategy, vision.

County supervisors also need to elaborate a vision here, like they’ve already publicly committed to, by establishing a transition center in each county district so no one area becomes a dumping ground and people can get immediate help when they most need it, which is when they first hit the streets.

Santa Ana can’t do it alone.

Every moment we as a society wait to help just adds to the bill on the other end.

Giving Thanks

More than 5.6 tons of food is headed toward needy veterans this holiday thanks to the efforts of myriad families and groups that responded last week on Veterans Day at the Orange County Fairgrounds for the annual “Veterans & Labor, Partners in Service” event.

Year after year, the annual event continues to swell with scores of union members from throughout the region turning out to work the event and celebrate veterans. This year, many eyes were focused on the opening of Heroes Hall and the unveiling of a respectful resting place for a series of plaques honoring Orange County’s most decorated veterans.

Yet behind each year’s big equipment showcase, like my favorite – military Jeeps – is the annual food drive.

This year, Ironworkers Local 416 in Norwalk alone collected more than 2 tons of food and goods alone while OCEA members also collected goods across worksites across the county, boosting last year’s total of 4 tons, which was a record.

The non-profit, Disabled American Veterans, which provides professional help to veterans and their families in obtaining benefits, distributes the food and supplies delivered to the OC Fairgrounds.

Leaving the event that day, I took a side turn through some booths and caught up with the strangest impromptu photo-op of the day, catching OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir Beuthin and County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, sharing a beer, openly reflecting on what happens when communities focus on results.

Credit: Norberto Santana Jr.

“Especially in this time of division, it’s so powerful when workers and the community can come together to something meaningful for those who have served our country,” Beuthin told me. “It’s a great example of what we can do when we work together, focus on what we have in common, rather than what divides us.”

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