The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved up to $2 million to spend if needed for more shelter beds, as part of a plan to move hundreds of Santa Ana riverbed homeless people from motels to other types of shelter.
Last month the county moved nearly 700 homeless people from the Angel Stadium area of the Santa Ana Riverbed into motel rooms. The temporary stays are for a maximum of 30 days and will start to expire Friday, requiring county officials to move the homeless people into other types of shelter.
County CEO Frank Kim told reporters Tuesday the county has the capacity to house the motel population through its existing resources at two cold weather armories, a year-round shelter in Anaheim, the Courtyard emergency shelter in Santa Ana, mental health facilities, detox centers and recuperative care facilities, which provide medical treatment to people with severe conditions.
Tuesday’s action by the supervisors will allow Kim to spend up to $2 million on more beds as they are needed, without returning to the board for additional approval.
“I firmly believe that everyone who is homeless can be housed,” said Kim after Tuesday’s board meeting.
But the plan, the result of a federal lawsuit filed by attorneys representing homeless clients, could be headed back into court. After Tuesday’s meeting, attorney Brooke Weitzman said the county plan is inadequate and she likely will request a hearing with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who has closely monitored the clearing of the riverbed.
“Despite having the whole 30 days” to create a plan while people are in motels, “it seems like at this point the county has not planned even the logistics” to safely transport people to places that are appropriate, said Weitzman.
Many of the people who moved from the riverbed into motels are seniors and former foster children who have a significant amount of trauma, and places like the county’s Courtyard shelter are not appropriate, Wetizman said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
People with a lot of trauma “are not going to be able to be in that kind of crowded…environment,” with no walls or privacy, she said.
Weitzman gave an example of a homeless person who she said experienced significant trauma, and couldn’t live in a group environment but also didn’t have serious mental health issues.
“[The county] could not tell me a place that person could go,” Weitzman said.
The current agreement between county officials and homeless people’s attorneys requires the county to provide “appropriate resources” after the 30-day stays in motels. It will be up to Carter to determine if the county’s plan meets that standard.
Until Tuesday, the county had not presented any plans for what will happen to former riverbed residents, and how it will prevent an influx of homeless people from moving into local neighborhoods.
While a court hearing currently is scheduled for April 3, Weitzman said unless the county changes its plans, she will file a written request Wednesday asking Carter to hold a meeting before the motel stays start expiring Friday morning.
So far, the county has conducted health assessments of 550 of the homeless people placed in motels as of March 9, and made 200 unsuccessful attempts to contact individuals, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Nentwig. Homeless people will be offered different types of shelter based on the county assessments.
Another 46 people have been required to leave the motels for breaking rules like using drugs or bringing in unauthorized guests, and seven left for other reasons, Nentwig said.
Asked how the county will handle people who decline the services they offer, or whose needs may not be met by county’s facilities, Kim was adamant that he believes all homeless people will qualify for one of the county’s existing housing options.
“I don’t see how you don’t fit into one of those categories,” Kim said.
“Even if you’ve refused any of our services, I will still be there with a van ready to take you to a shelter or Kraemer,” said Kim. “We’re not vacating that responsibility.”
Kim described roughly 425 beds available in two cold weather armories, which only are open at night and shut down in April, the Courtyard shelter in Santa Ana, at the Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim and the Baymont motel in Anaheim, which the county is leasing for six months. There are more beds, which the county did not have a number for, available in drug treatment facilities and in recuperative care.
Weitzman said that won’t be enough to accommodate the more than 600 people still in motels.
“It seems like…at this point we will need to go ahead and file with the county and say, you know, ‘Where are the beds?’” Weitzman said.
“What they need now is a safe place with the security and privacy” that will allow them to stay with pets and partners and engage in services and increase their income, she added.
Meanwhile, county residents have complained about potential crime issues and other disturbances in their neighborhoods that they blame on homeless people at motels.
Kim met with city managers across the county last week and said he will remain in regular contact with cities to resolve issues as they arise. No police chiefs have contacted him with complaints about increased crime, Kim said.
The county has no control over how local police departments enforce anti-camping and anti-loitering laws. Carter, the federal judge, has said he does not want to see homeless people return to the riverbed or be cited by local police for camping.
Kim said county officials have stressed to other police agencies that they should offer homeless people shelter and other services before enforcing such laws, but he said they have a right to cite people who are breaking the law.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors approved a resolution calling on city mayors to support a plan to increase Orange County’s affordable housing stock.
A shortage of housing in Orange County has been sharply driving up rents much faster than growth in income, which officials have cited as a driver of the increasing numbers of homeless.
“Orange County is experiencing a substantial shortage of housing, which is creating a significant impact on household budgets and the quality of life of its residents,” the resolution states.
David Duran, a member of the group Housing is a Human Right OC, said he has been volunteering to help homeless people relocated to motels. He called on county officials to go further and dedicate county-owned properties to housing for the homeless.
“Be it Tuff Sheds, or something,” Duran said, referring to a proposal by the federal judge to temporarily shelter people in prefabricated sheds. “You’ve claimed great success for spending $35 million for housing animals…but your inaction to resolve homelessness is still on our radar.”
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