County’s First Year-Round Homeless Shelter Opens

Photo by Thy Vo

(Left to Right) Supervisors Andrew Do, Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer at a dedication ceremony for the new homeless shelter.

Orange County’s first year-round homeless shelter and comprehensive services center opens today in Anaheim with beds for 100 men and women.

“This is not a warehouse, this is a life-changing facility,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, at a dedication ceremony Thursday for the 6,000-square-foot building. The shelter is in Spitzer’s Third Supervisorial district.

Called Bridges at Kraemer Place, the building will include restrooms and showers, laundry, shuttle services, daytime service providers, job referrals and case management services.

When completed this summer, it will add another 100 beds as well as a kitchen, computer lab and health clinic.

Photo by Thy Vo

Sleeping areas for men and women are separated by barriers.

The opening of the Kraemer shelter is a major milestone for the county.

County officials have discussed a shelter since 2013 but struggled for two years to find a location. The project was given final approval and funding by county supervisors in November 2015, and, in December, 2016, they named Mercy House the nonprofit operator.

A year-round transitional shelter opened at an abandoned bus terminal in Santa Ana last fall, providing a roof for protection from the rain, but the walls are open to the heat and cold. Two National Guard armories, one in Fullerton and the other in Santa Ana, are open during winter nights to provide a dry place to sleep when it rains and escape the cold of the streets, but closed the rest of the year.

Spitzer said the dedication ceremony was “not a celebration” and that public officials countywide will need to step up to establish more facilities in other parts of the county.

“It will never happen with just one facility and we all know that,” Spitzer said.

Photo by Thy Vo

Polyurethane foam mattresses and pillows are coated with a waterproof nylon material.

The Kraemer shelter location, like previously proposed locations in Fullerton and Santa Ana, drew sharp opposition from nearby businesses and homeowners who raised concerns about the shelter drawing homeless individuals to the area.

He said North County elected officials need to be recognized for supporting the project.

Anaheim and Fullerton both contributed $500,000 toward the shelter, La Habra $150,000 and Brea $100,000. The county will provide about $1.8 million each year to cover operating costs, according to a county news release.

“This is not a time to pat ourselves on the back. It’s a moment for reflection,” said Spitzer, later adding, “But we should be so proud.”

Outreach is Key

The 200-bed Kraemer shelter is far from meeting the need countywide.

Although the January 2017 point-in-time count of homeless people in Orange County won’t be released until later this month, the most recent available figures, from a single morning count in January 2015, found 4,452 people were homeless.

A census conducted last November by the city of Anaheim found 797 unsheltered homeless people in Anaheim alone.

Mercy House director Larry Haynes.

Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes said the Kraemer Shelter would not be “a panacea for the entire county” but is an important start to creating a pipeline to permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Unlike the Courtyard Center or an Armory, to stay at the Kraemer shelter, homeless people will not be able to just walk up to the facility and be admitted. They will need to be referred by an outreach worker for Mercy House or a partnering organization.

The shelter also will give priority to homeless people in the fifteen north county cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Palma, La Habra, Los Alamitos, Midway City, Orange, Placentia, Rossmoor, Stanton, Villa Park and Yorba Linda.

The shelter is not meant to be a countywide solution and, at least at first, people from other parts of the county, including the temporary transitional center in Santa Ana, won’t be able to stay at the Kraemer facility.

Haynes said that limited set up will also reduce the likelihood of the shelter becoming a “magnet” for homeless people and reduce complaints from nearby business and homeowners.

“This isn’t the courtyard, this isn’t the armory. We are in a business district, we’ve got a residential community within a mile,” Haynes said.

People will generally be able to stay at the shelter for up to 180 days at a time, according to a county press release, although Haynes said he would like to operate the shelter without putting limitations on how long people can stay.

“Our point is: what’s it gonna take to get you housed?” Haynes said. “Our role, our job, is to have 100 people document-ready for housing,” he said referring to the shelter’s current capacity.

Then, he said, it’s the job of affordable housing providers to provide housing.

Asked what portion of the homeless population is ready to be housed, Haynes said, “We’ve never found anybody who’s not ready for housing.”

He agreed the shelter will create pressure for additional housing, given that people will be ready for housing and can’t stay at the shelter forever.

Voice of OC Reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this report.

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