Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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It took a federal judge to teach Orange County Supervisors how to do their job.

In less than a month, more than 700 of our most vulnerable residents, living on the Santa Ana riverbed for the last few years, finally got a shot at normalcy, getting month-long county motel vouchers and case management from social workers.

Despite what county supervisors told us – that these were the lowest of the low, people who would not accept help – most of them did.

Out at long overdue county responder tents and trailers near Angel’s Stadium, a constant stream of riverbed residents saw harsh county eviction deadlines tempered by the common sense of U.S District Judge David O. Carter.

Carter did in two weeks what the County Board of Supervisors couldn’t in a decade.

He offered leadership.

Carter forced county supervisors to actually spend some of those federal and state pass-through funds they’ve been hoarding for so many years, a nasty habit we’ve reported on in recent years from our budget coverage.

Voice of OC reporters also stuck close to the trenches this past month – both in court and alongside the riverbed – when the County of Orange started evictions.

Our news staff joined me this week for our weekly podcast to talk about what life along with riverbed has been like as they all went deep dive on the issue.

You can listen to our reporters’ fascinating insights here.

Now, everyone who is close to this issue tells me that Judge Carter plans to stay involved, monitoring what happens to those new motel residents over the next month.

That gives me hope because I really wonder where these people go after the month long motel stays are over?

Where do we all go from here?

The County of Orange has seemingly no strategy – even after years of politicking on the issue by county supervisors.

Now, County officials are expected to put together a series of basic county campgrounds (something I have written about previously and that County Supervisor Shawn Nelson has championed at the dais without support from his colleagues).

County Supervisors are also reportedly moving to expand the Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter on the border of Orange and Anaheim. Yet I wonder how that fits with the community assurances offered by county supervisors when they started that site.

There are also indications that county officials are planning to relocate the Santa Ana civic center Courtyard Transition Center (a place I wrote extensively about in my columns over the last few years) from its civic center location, which would affect nearly 500 overnight beds that are available each night.

As the civic center is undergoing its quiet redevelopment, it seems the corner on Civic Center and Broadway has another future…to be unveiled at a later date.

No word on where the homeless go.

Yet more and more, it’s clear to me that Orange County isn’t waiting around anymore for county supervisors to offer leadership.

City, civic and business leaders are moving forward with the most ambitious plan I’ve heard in years to actually combat homelessness in a concrete manner.

It appears that there’s now a $100 million commitment and a plan to build permanent, supportive housing for those that need it.

This coming week, leaders working with the United Way and the Association of California Cities are rolling out a major collaborative effort – called United to End Homelessness – aimed at jump-starting homelessness strategy and planning in Orange County.

This Wednesday at 8 a.m. at the UCI Irvine Student Center at 311 Peltason Drive in Irvine, a host of community leaders will come together to talk about launching more effective strategies for getting people off the streets.

I’ll certainly be there.

Given the stark gap in political leadership we are facing as a region, it’s critical that change be driven from the ranks of civil society.

People like longtime Anaheim resident, Bill Taormina.

Taormina’s bold statement that he can put together 50 legacy families in Orange County to direct $100 million into changing the dynamic on homelessness is a real commitment to change.

Taormina, who has donated to Voice of OC, is the real deal – a person who means what he says, has integrity and knows how to get things done.

Indeed, more and more, I keep seeing outside actors — grassroots activists like Mohammed Aly, judges like Carter, business leaders like Taormina, civic groups like the United Way and the Association of California Cities, Orange County –- not our overpaid and underworked county supervisors – stepping up to set policy, leadership for our county.

It’s a trend that could soon turn county supervisors into part-timers (remember, we are a charter county) while more community members develop into full-time advisors, engaging their county and city government more directly.

And actually getting things done…

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