Homelessness and Poverty Keep Growing in Orange County, Studies Find

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Mariestelle Olague, who lives in the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, sets up her tent again after cleaning it out on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

More and more Orange County residents are struggling to afford rising housing costs and end up living on the streets, according to new reports from public agencies and nonprofits.

The two studies, both of which were overseen by the county government, confirmed a series of troubling trends.

There’s been a 54-percent increase in homeless people living on the streets in the past four years, according to data released last week from the county’s Point in Time count. From January 2013 to this January, the count of “unsheltered” homeless people grew from 1,678 to 2,584. Organizers of the count said the actual number of homeless people on the streets is almost certainly higher, because the count’s volunteers aren’t able to cover the whole county.

And the region’s shortage of homes, paired with stagnant employee wages, has fueled a housing crisis that is pushing families into poverty and homelessness, according to the 2017 Community Indicators Report.

(Recommended reading: Memorial service in homeless encampment remembers 18-year-old woman.)

If this isn’t addressed, through bringing earnings up or costs down, the result will be “a persistent and growing underclass,” the indicators report states.

“It’s a struggle for the workforce to [afford] housing,” said Susan Price, who oversees the county’s homeless services as its director of care coordination, in an interview.

Many people in the county have income and other financial benefits, she added, but “that is not a sustainable income for [our] housing market,” she added.

“Certainly there’s a sense in our communities that there’s an increase in homelessness.”

She emphasized the importance of collaboration by everyone, including leaders in county government, cities, business, advocates, and nonprofits.

“There’s room for everyone at the table, and that’s my message to the community, [which] is get involved and start working on the solutions,” said Price.

According to the indicators report, a household needs to earn $27.62 per hour to be able to rent a median-priced one-bedroom housing unit. But 68 percent of jobs in OC pay less than that, with the median hourly wage being $19.12, according to the report.

“To support the workforce, there must be enough housing at diverse price points to meet workers’ needs,” the report states.

“As Orange County competes with less costly communities that have adequate housing and job growth, it will become harder to retain or attract a skilled workforce. If housing and rental markets remain undersupplied, residents with lower-paying jobs will continue to be priced out of the market.”

“For those with low-paying service jobs, overcrowding and homelessness will continue to grow, perpetuating a persistent and growing underclass with diminished opportunity for personal advancement.”

January’s point in time census counted a total of 4,792 homeless people across Orange County, when including people who are in shelters and those who are not.

The vast majority of unsheltered homeless people – 89 percent – live in north and central Orange County, according to the figures, though 289 unsheltered homeless people were counted in South County.

The new annual estimate of the number of people who are homeless at some point each year in Orange County – which was over 15,000 in 2015 – hasn’t yet been released.

There appears to be a growing consensus about what’s needed to help chornically homeless people get off of the streets – while also saving taxpayer dollars.

“Certainly housing is the period at the end of the sentence on solving homelessness…It’s health and housing,” said Price, who added there also is a need for specialized housing like recuperative care, mental health crisis stabilization units, and drug detox centers.

A recent cost study by UC Irvine researchers found that housing with health and support services – known as permanent supportive housing – actually saves money for the public, mostly because of major reductions in emergency room visits that the public is currently paying for.

In Orange County, the public currently pays an average of $85,000 per year for each chronically homeless person living on the streets or in a shelter, according to UC Irvine sociology professor David Snow.

But when they’re in permanent supportive housing, that total cost to the public drops to an average of $51,000 per person – a reduction of over $30,000. And the outcomes are better for the homeless person, with significant drops in emergency hospitalizations, arrests, and tickets.

“There’s a decline in uses of services across the board, once people are housed,” Snow said during a presentation about his research last week.

The savings become even more dramatic when it comes to the most costly 10 percent of homeless people.

“In each case, you’re talking about an over $300,000 reduction on cost if these folks can be housed with some kind of wrap-around support,” Snow said.

Expansion of permanent supportive housing has support from local leaders.

Asked at the Irvine meeting if they supported a plan to create a housing trust fund to expand permanent supportive housing and identify the source of money to finance it, Max Gardner, the outgoing head of Orange County United Way, said “generally I think it’s an excellent idea.”

Added Karen Williams, president and CEO of 2-1-1 Orange County, “I think absolutely it’s one of the pieces of the puzzle.”

This type of housing already is happening in Orange County, albeit on a relatively small scale.

The Irvine-based Illumination Foundation has gone directly to a health foundation to fund a permanent supportive housing program, known as Street2Home, for 108 of the most-expensive homeless utilizers of hospitals.

A similar pilot program has housed about three dozen homeless people in recent years, while saving millions of dollars even when including the program’s costs, according to Paul Leon, president and CEO of the Illumination Foundation.

“Since January, we’ve housed about 160 people,” said Leon. “To us, it’s a race to try to get more available housing…We’re renovating places as fast as we can.”

Another program, Whole Person Care, which is overseen by the county and funded mainly through state and federal dollars, has a goal of housing 1,000 people in Orange County, he added.

“We’re really excited,” Leon said. “If cities would jump in, and the Board of Supervisors, with additional funding (and land), eventually we’re gonna cross over.”

None of the five county supervisors returned calls to discuss the issue.

“We are dedicated in our cooperation with city governments, local agencies, non-profits, and local communities to reduce the number of homeless individuals as well as [finding] feasible solutions to end homelessness and increase the quality of life for all residents,” said supervisors’ Chairwoman Michelle Steel in an email statement.

At least one county supervisor has shown support for expanded housing.

“If you don’t have a way to process people out [of homelessness], it’s just a band-aid approach,” Supervisor Andrew Do said in December at a meeting of the county’s commission to end homelessness. “Now we’re going to have to think about some kind of housing.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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  • Elizabeth Ann Stewart

    Housing for the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the ex-cons, etc. (at least those who were born in Orange County) does need to be distributed throughout the county in smaller units, but unless carefully managed that does raise the cost of supplying needed services. It seems to me that the churches (which get total tax exemption based on the excuse that they provide charitable services to the poor) should step up to the plate here and provide housing for the losers in our meritocratic economy. I have noticed enough tax free churches in Orange County to provide for 5,000 homeless.

    • LFOldTimer

      Charitable services?

      The government pays the churches on a per-capita basis to provide housing, food, medical care and education for illegal aliens. The churches get rich off those revenue generators.

      Charitable services my foot.

  • cbracefan

    Is it true that if someone comes here from another country and pays cash for a property over $500k that they get a visa and citizenship here? This would be something to look into and write about. I have heard this from several people and it would make sense as to all of the new, expensive, “work where you live” properties that are being built in Costa Mesa are being bought when they are so over priced. The people who live here cannot afford it but those from other countries can and can pay cash and benefit from it. Prices are rising to accommodate those from Asia mostly. Check out South Coast Plaza if you haven’t lately.. it is a real eye opener.

    • Elizabeth Ann Stewart

      Citizenship, no, I don’t think, but some kind of visa, maybe a green card, yes. Of course, if they live here permanently for over five years that puts them in line to apply for citizenship. Actually it’s much easier and cheaper for Asians to move to places like the Mississippi Gulf Coast or the Carolinas where jobs are available to them and housing prices are much more affordable. They can buy a very nice new house there for $150,000, something which would cost a million in Orange County.

  • LFOldTimer

    I’m surprised you haven’t written a blog about Shawn Nelson’s proposal to use County land for temporary 200-bed homeless shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana, Mr. Gerda. Mr. Nelson is thinking outside the box to come up with solutions to help fix the problem and everyone ignores or criticizes him.

    All the supes were hot to trot to stick the 200-bed permanent homeless shelter at Kraemer Place in Anaheim outside their districts. But now that Mr. Nelson proposed homeless shelters in THEIR districts all are opposed!!! LOL. NOT IN MY BACKYARD YOU WON’T!!!! LOL.

    Maybe you should call them out, Mr. Gerda. Remember when Spitzer, Steel and Bartlett criticized all the NIMBY’s who shot down the homeless shelter in Santa Ana and Fullerton. ha. Now all 3 are crying their eyes out that Mr. Nelson would have the audacity to put temporary 200-bed homeless shelters in their backyards. That just wouldn’t be fair!!!! LOL!!!

    As I have stated MANY TIMES on this board – I am in favor of ALL OC cities pulling their fair load to solve the homeless problem. I do not live in Anaheim but I was very upset that the supes dropped the homeless bomb on them instead of negotiating with ALL CITIES to participate in the solution.

    The hypocrisy is over the top, Mr. Gerda. It would be nice of you as a journalist to point that out.

    • justanon

      Well, you have your facts WRONG again, but what else is new. You’re in such a hurry to slime people and make your hypocritical and slanted statements that you can’t be bothered with reality.

      “Naturally Steel has her eye on a congressional seat and Spitzer wants to become the next DA. Homeless shelters in THEIR districts might cost them votes!!!”
      “Remember when Spitzer, Steel and Bartlett criticized all the NIMBY’s who shot down the homeless shelter in Santa Ana and Fullerton. ha. Now all 3 are crying their eyes out that Mr. Nelson would have the audacity to want temporary 200-bed homeless shelters in their backyards. ”

      Except Kraemer Place IS in Spitzer’s district!

      “When the first residents move in this week to the newly christened Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter and service center, it will mark a major step forward in Orange County’s efforts to find housing for thousands of people living on the streets, local officials said Thursday at a dedication ceremony.

      “This is not a warehouse. This isn’t a place to stack people up,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose 3rd District is now home to the county’s first year-round, 24/7 shelter and multi-service center, near the 91 freeway and Kraemer Boulevard in Anaheim. “This is a life-changing facility.”


      MAJOR FAIL!!! LOL!!!

      The ONLY thing you’re right about is this:

      “The hypocrisy is over the top, Mr. Gerda.”

      That is …. YOUR HYPOCRISY!!!!!

      • LFOldTimer

        Buzz off, fool.There you go again sticking your size 7’s in your mouth.


        • justanon

          Did you bother looking at that map, doofus????


          Just admit you don’t know what your talking about and put yourself out of your misery early … for once!

          • LFOldTimer

            The Kraemer Place shelter impacts ALL of Anaheim, doofus.

            Anaheim voters resent that their city was targeted with the 200-bed shelter and will vote against any politician who was part of the decision.

            The city taxpayers are responsible for cleanup, public safety, etc…

            Plus, When the homeless leave the shelter they will stay in Anaheim.

            Why do I always have to explain the basic fundamentals to you?

            Don’t you realize that you’re the laughing stock of the comment board?

            Why do you humiliate yourself over and over again?

          • justanon

            YOU ARE SUCH A LIAR!!!!!!

            “Homeless shelters in THEIR districts might cost them votes!!!”

            You SPECIFICALLY wrote that Spitzer did NOT want a homeless shelter in HIS DISTRICT, but good attempt at trying to move-the-goalpost, LIAR!!!!

          • LFOldTimer

            Since Kraemer Place is in the CITY OF ANAHEIM it impacts ALL ANAHEIMITES, goofy. And Nelson has a MUCH BIGGER part of Anaheim in his district than Spitzer has in his. So Nelson would take a much bigger hit than Spitzer.

            Your insults fall on deaf ears and only hurt your own credibility. Intelligent people see you for what you are.

            And why don’t you stop stalking me on this comment board? Having someone like you fixated on me is eerie.

            Why don’t you get together with Spitzer to share a latte and a piece of quiche. It seems you two have a lot in common. lol.

          • justanon

            If you stop LYING and SMEARING people and issues with your ignorant, slanted comments, I promise to stop CORRECTING YOU.
            Honest engine, lol!

          • LFOldTimer

            I don’t lie. That means you’re SMEARING me. I only criticize those who deserve criticism. And I always praise those who deserve praise. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is an opinion board. If you’re compelled to respond with hostility to others with opinions that disagree with your own – stay off the opinion board. Your uncivil behavior is bordering on savagery. Go find a hobby. I bet you’d make a champion log roller.

          • justanon

            You are a liar and someone who ALWAYS SMEARS OTHERS AND INSERTS NASTY NAMES into the subject matter.

            You expect a free pass on your nastiness and I refuse to give it.

  • kburgoyne

    Have OC, LA, and SD done any studies to determine how many homeless originate locally and how many at some point in their past potentially immigrated looking for jobs which were unavailable in their originating rural state/locale, or just the climate being more hospitable if you’re homeless? I believe a community has an obligation to deal with their own homeless situation, but that only works if all communities accept that responsibility. Other communities (and even local cities like Costa Mesa) are often engaged in efforts to incentivize homeless individuals to immigrate elsewhere in an effort to shift their responsibilities onto others.

    • Jordan Hoiberg

      Ya, the study mentioned in this article also says about 70% of the homeless have lived in the OC 10yrs or more.

      • Elizabeth Ann Stewart

        But where were they from originally?

    • Jordan Hoiberg

      Costa Mesa only houses 13% of their homeless in their city.

      • Elizabeth Ann Stewart

        I imagine that it’s even less in Irvine, but I don’t have the statistics.