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.

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.

Nothing.

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.

Nothing.

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.

  • Fuji Shioura

    The homelessness crisis is very, very serious threat to public safety and health that must be addressed immediately by all candidates and elected officials. Elected officials need to put on notice. As as well candidates like myself running for elected office. I am very concerned about the impending colder weather that might exacerbate a pandemic outbreak (flu virus, etc.). Inaction is not acceptable.

  • Ed Romero

    The Board of Supervisor’s can’t even SOLVE the problems at the Sheriff Department, the Probation Department and the DA’s Office. A perfect example of what I’m talking about is making a phone call because a member of the GOP was arrested for Drunk Driving and believing that there is NOTHING wrong with that.

  • Ed Romero

    While employed by the Orange County Probation Department, we were advised that a Social Worker had died from Hep B, she apparently contacted it when her Client used her Phone, at least that’s what I was told. I had no idea that disease could be spread so easily. I had friend that according to his Doctor he was infected with Hep C for over 20 years and NO ONE knew it, he died .

  • miltdardis

    The homeless do not make any monetary political contributions to the Supervisors reelection campaigns. You expect a solution when there is no monetary benefit. Get a life as the homeless is an epidemic that the ostrich head in the sand approach is the politicians answer. Take the Anaheim land and rent it to the Salvation Army for $1.00 a year and you will have a solution that we can all live with as they know how to handle the homeless problem.Would have rules and work details in effect.

    • LFOldTimer

      Anaheim has already done more than it’s fair share to help the homeless. That should be obvious to anyone who has noted the discord it’s caused to their city. It’s time for the rest of the county to pick up the slack instead of continuously dropping the homeless bomb on Anaheim.

      (Full disclosure: Not an Anaheim resident).

      There are large county land parcels in Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Irvine that could be leased to the Salvation Army so the homeless could have temporary places to lawfully pitch their tents. Enough room for 600 tents that would clear out the riverbed.

      The homeless shouldn’t have been allowed to start pitching their tents on the riverbed trail in the first place. Just like the homeless should not be allowed to pitch a tent in your front yard. Now we have over 400 tents along the river trail that is a hazard to public health and safety and the government is at a loss of what to do because they FAILED to act at the inception of this problem.

      Would you buy or rent property along the riverbed trail today with a homeless encampment as a neighbor?

      The problem is that we have NO GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP! Those who are supposed to lead are cowards and grandstanders who get NOTHING done to resolve the problem.

      A REAL leader would demand all OC cities to form a coalition to address the problem and openly condemn all cities that refused to cooperate. The county should declare economic sanctions on all cities that REFUSE to become part of the solution.

      And once the government offers assistance to the homeless in terms of shelter, food and medical care – any homeless person who rejects that assistance and refuses to do their part in becoming a functional and productive citizen of society should be treated with the same disrespect that they show to society as a whole.

      RESPECT is a two-way street!

      • miltdardis

        Great response that requires actual leadership qualities that only appear in political handouts. Difference between the Theory and the Practice. I assume that local politicians claim there is no homeless problem in their city. We have a homeless problem in HB; They did the 3 step Tap Dance: Form a Commission, Hold a Town Hall Meeting; and then do NOTHING.

        • LFOldTimer

          The leadership must start at the top, at the COUNTY level. Otherwise the city officials will remain in denial. If a city council member goes soft on homelessness and invites homeless people to enter their city – that would be the end of his or her political career.

          Even that progressive liberal Moreno on the Anaheim council held hands with conservative Kris Murray and voted in approval of her “State of Emergency” declaration. None of the council wanted to get caught on the wrong side of this volatile issue and face the wrath of the citizenry.

          The County must bring the cities TOGETHER and form a coalition to comprehensively attack the problem.

          The problem is that there is NO LEADERSHIP at the county level. Only feckless grandstanders like Spitzer who are all mouth and no action.

      • Cynthia Ward

        Thank you LFOT for recognizing Anaheim has already shouldered WAY too much of this County-wide responsibility, while other cities pretend they have no poor and therefore no responsibility to them. With the exception of the County itself, Anaheim has more Section 8 housing vouchers than anyone in OC, and there are only 3 cities listed that even participate through a Housing Authority, in the County’s report! Shawn Nelson has tried for YEARS to get his colleagues to step up. We get crickets chirping. The Bridges shelter is a stop-gap, that actually prevents people from coming into help because the set up forces them to leave behind the support system of a spouse and pet we know to be the best odds for making it out of poverty. It is supposed to be temporary while professionals triage and get the person into more permanent solutions, but since there ARE NO housing options for them. it is going to become a revolving door. That is why the homeless are afraid to accept help and come in off the riverbed. Be separated from your mate, the unconditional love of your pet, the little bit of stuff you retain, to be warehoused in a room for 100 people lacking privacy, and then find out there is nowhere to go from there. Once they are out of the riverbed, and the County can lock it up. the fear is THEN they will be kicked to the curb with no promised housing and no riverbed to return to. Now what? Now I understand the perception of the homeless may not be reality, but if there is another plan someone sucks at explaining that to those they are trying to reach. But no matter what happens, it is time for more cities to recognize their role in the problem and solution, because right now a lot of agencies are dumping an unfunded mandate onto Anaheim, and it is not going to be pretty. Anaheim people are sick of offering the only solution, you should see how angry the crowds are getting at meetings, and online. Enough.

    • Fuji Shioura

      You make a very sobering and valid point on monetary contributions to politicians.

    • DC Matthews

      Salvation Army does help physically able who need to sober up. They and all others do poorly or not at all for many out there, single disabled adults and seniors with long term illness. As a single disabled vet i would never after leaving for my health and safety never go near a Salvation Army again. OC rescue mission is a welfare family or sober up camp. They said single disabled vets would have to give up all outside medical care and basically be imprisoned for 3 months. Transitional for 3 months also means you are no longer eligible for HUD housing… creating other long term problems. It can take 6 months or longer to find safe decent affordable accessible housing. Addicts and others who will not sober up also need an as yet unavailable option, if only to help stop the spread of Hep A and other behavioral concerns. Ideas to help prevent some of the growing problem of irreversible but maybe treatable drug/aclohol induced psychosis is also an issue. There can not be a one size fits all plan, and there must be incentive for helping those who have more complex needs.

  • David Zenger

    Anaheim owns a three acre parcel the council purchased for $3,112,500 in 2014 for a homeless shelter.

    Right now the only thing that separates this land from an actual homeless encampment along the 91 access road is a chain link fence. The irony is inescapable – even to the dimmest bulb.