Santana: Inaction Can Kill

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

A group of bike riders pass through the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana Riverbed Sept. 18, 2017.

The time to act is now.

Year after year, taxpayers have watched Orange County Supervisors just stand idly by and watch homeless communities sprout in local streets, parks, riverbeds and civic centers -- as if powerless bystanders from the governing dais.

Supervisors are great at taking credit for “solving homelessness” in campaign mailers.

They’re just not very good at the actual “solving” part of the crisis.

Meanwhile, homeless communities continue to grow in public areas – without any kind of sanitation or attention to basic needs.

Now, we are witnessing Hepatitis A outbreaks being declared in both San Diego and Los Angeles Counties.

When will Orange County take action?

For months, homeless activists, church volunteers and the ACLU have pleaded with Orange County supervisors to provide basic sanitation needs at the impromptu village they allowed to spring up along the Santa Ana riverbed.


Lately, I’ve even seen an emerging consensus between business leaders and ACLU types for an emergency approach to meeting affordable housing needs – such as a housing bond.


Parties and mailers…

That’s pretty much the only tune this band of county supervisors can play.

Recent surveys have established that many of these residents are working poor from the Anaheim area, many have mental issues and in many cases, criminal backgrounds.

One estimate put the population under a thousand.

There is no reason a $6 billion county bureaucracy built to provide health and human services cannot address this situation.

It just requires political leadership.

Now, County Supervisor Shawn Nelson did come up with the most reasonable short-term solution, which was to create campsites on county-owned sites throughout Orange County.

Homeless Activist Lou Noble has been emailing county supervisors for months with the idea of creating outdoor camp areas, calling one concept, Alfresco Gardens.

What could it possibly cost to provide no-cost solid and secure tents and awning structures on a variety of sites throughout the county – with restrooms and showers and laundry facilities – for our most challenged residents?

How many lives could have already been turned around – just like the year-old effort at the civic center Courtyard Transition Center where people living on streets can start a transition back to normalcy at their own pace.

To be clear: the answer is not to regularize the situation along our flood control channels.

In the short term, sanitation must be provided.

We also have to accept that with recent legal prison reforms – such as AB 109 and Prop 47 – many people with housing needs and criminal backgrounds are being put back on our local streets.

They shouldn’t have to sleep there if we want the effort to have good results for taxpayers.

Homeless activist Mohammed Aly – who heads the Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition and has taken to really challenging county supervisors in public over their inaction on sanitary needs along with riverbed – sent out the latest call for action after the outbreaks in LA and San Diego.

“Unless you act, residents of Orange County will die,” Aly wrote county supervisors.

“This is a state of emergency--immediately, today or tomorrow, place hand washing stations and restrooms at the Santa Ana Riverbed. And place the Hepatitis A epidemic on the agenda for the next Board of Supervisors Meeting.

Otherwise, the County Board of Supervisors and Orange County Health Care Agency will have to answer to the public why it allowed people to die.”

Now, Orange County Supervisors may hate it when people like Aly and Noble call them out – even recently escorting Aly out of a recent supervisors’ meeting in handcuffs after his public comments.

Yet faced with sustained inaction from the county board of supervisors – other than during campaign season – other public actors are stepping up to lead.

Aly is just the first to challenge them face-to-face.

Recently, Anaheim city council members joined together for the first time in a long time on the public dais and declared a public emergency on homelessness.

Mayor Tom Tait gets credit for speaking out publicly about the importance of working together on homelessness. His council rival, Kris Murray, gets credit for coming forward with a plan – even it’s largely a call for county supervisors to do their job.

Santa Ana city council members are moving to appoint their own homeless czar, mirroring a similar county government post created several years ago to better coordinate public services to the homeless.

Recently, Mission Viejo city council members like Ed Sachs also started asking some very public questions about the massive public safety bill they are getting from the county…

At the same time, their homeless population keeps growing.