Orange County has a homelessness problem. We have nearly 5,000 homeless residents. Over 300 of our county’s homeless are military veterans. The number of homeless in the county has increased nearly 8 percent in two years, and given the serious shortage of shelter beds and the high cost of living in the county, that trend is likely to continue.
Despite the growing homelessness crisis, time and again, Orange County’s elected officials have refused to take any meaningful action to address the root causes of homelessness. Instead, our civic leaders have resorted to a series of half-measures that treat the homeless as a nuisance and an eyesore rather than who they really are: human beings and Orange County residents.
Examples of the poor response are not hard to find.
Last month, the Santa Ana City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that targets 175 homeless persons currently living in the Santa Ana Civic Center complex. The ordinance not only deprives the individuals in the Civic Center of any form of shelter—after all, the county’s homeless shelters are at or near capacity—but also criminalizes providing any food, medical, or social services to the homeless without a permit from the city. The city council has since approved additional funding to three local programs to provide services to individuals in the Civic Center; the move is welcome, but the limited funding is woefully insufficient.
At the same time, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is working to remove the homeless individuals currently living in the Santa Ana Riverbed, without providing them with any alternative housing options. In October, Supervisor Shawn Nelson admitted the move would simply push the problem into Anaheim. This is no solution at all—it simply relocates the homeless from the Riverbed into Anaheim’s neighborhoods and no one—not the homeless nor the residents of Anaheim—will benefit.
The city of Anaheim similarly has been slow to respond in a meaningful way. In September 2017, the city council declared a state of emergency and unanimously passed “Operation Home Safe,” which intends to establish a comprehensive program to provide services and shelter space. Since then, there has been little evidence to suggest the plan will do more than simply remove homeless people from the Riverbed. Funding has yet to be identified and services have yet to be provided, but dozens of arrests have already been made.
Moves such as these – and the anti-camping ordinances in 33 out of 34 cities in the county – suggest our elected leadership has no real plan to address the crisis or lacks the political will to develop policy solutions.
Ultimately, what is needed is housing and shelter space. A strategy based on the Housing First model, which the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness describes as a “proven approach,” can move homeless persons off the streets and into housing so they can get back on their feet, participate in relevant support services, and re-enter their communities as productive members. We do not have to look further than Utah to see the potential. The state reduced its chronically homeless population by 91 percent in 10 years after implementing a Housing First model.
If it can happen in Utah, then why not Orange County? Why not work together to find a smart way to build safe and sustainable housing on the acres of county-owned land that Supervisor Nelson has previously suggested?
We must identify creative and common sense solutions that give the homeless a place to live and the opportunity to receive the services that can lead them towards productive lives. Orange County politicians must stop treating the crisis as a nuisance to be swatted away and recognize homelessness as a human and civic challenge that must be addressed with sound policy solutions.
Yuvaraj Sivalingam is the Policy Director for the Orange County Young Democrats (OCYD).
OCYD is an organization comprised of Orange County residents between the ages of 14-35 who are committed to Democratic values. OCYD meets every second Wednesday of each month. Visit them at Facebook.com/TheRealOCYD or follow them on Twitter @OCYD
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