On December 6, 1994, The County of Orange filed the largest municipal bankruptcy ever in the U.S. After 22 years of paying-off the debt that averaged approximately $68 million annually, the county made it's last payment on July 1, 2017.
Now that Orange County has followed-through on its commitment to mitigate a crisis from its past, would it not seem prudent, if not fiscally responsible, to attend to the crisis that our county is faced with in the present?
On July 14, 2017 A survey of Orange County voters revealed that the most important issues facing them were affordable housing, homelessness and poverty.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California in its report on the bankruptcy in 1998, "The poor were silent and without representation during the bankruptcy. The county officials heeded the preferences of the middle class throughout the crisis, including the latter's overwhelming rejection of a tax increase. Although some state and local officials were concerned about effects on the poor, the county budget cuts fell largely in areas that would be felt most by those in poverty."
On page 18 of the report, The Institute cites the county budget for Community and Social Services was reduced by 27% and Health Services by 25% at a total of approximately $34 million annually from the onset of the bankruptcy.
The services provided by these county departments combine together as the only safety net for our county's poor and those most at-risk of homelessness. There are no records that indicate that any cuts to the budgets of these departments were ever restored nor is there any plan for restoring them ever.
It could be said that the reckless public policy of our county leaders in the past has somehow contributed to the widespread exponential increase in visible homelessness over the past two decades here in Orange County.
Putting all things aside from the past, would it not be incredible for our county leaders to see the current homeless crisis at face value in terms of today and to seize an opportunity to end visible homelessness that would be literally painless to taxpayers in the future?
Beginning this year, our county will no longer be responsible for paying a debt of about $68 million that it has payed annually over 22 years to mitigate the '94 bankruptcy crisis. Does it not make sense to dedicate at least some of these funds towards the largest crisis in our county today?
Could this be Orange County's painless solution to ending its homeless crisis?
Tim Houchen is the Homeless Policy Advisor and Executive Director of Hope 4 Restoration
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