Coleman: Integrating Homeless Offers Unique Opportunity for Irvine

Anita Coleman

Land owned by the County

Should the County-owned land in Irvine, across from the Great Park, be used to provide temporary housing shelter for those experiencing homelessness? A lot of people protested no, the Board has rescinded its vote, but there some who continue to believe yes. The current problem of where to house people experiencing homelessness offers Irvine a unique opportunity to help end homelessness in the OC. In the process, Irvine can also begin to ease the housing shortages.

[Video of land owned by County here taken by Anita Coleman, March 21, 2018]

The total population of Irvine is now ~238, 474, double what it was when we first came here. Irvine has grown but the growth is at a human and moral cost; many Irvine friends and neighbors are struggling to make ends meet. These include middle class two parent families with children, and young professionals who went to K-12 schools in Irvine and graduated from local colleges and Universities. There are ~88,000 housing units in Irvine of which ~52% household unit are occupied by renters. The median rent in Irvine is ~$ 1,903 and ~46 to 48% of the renters are overburdened; this means that roughly half the people renting in Irvine or a quarter of those living in Irvine are paying more than 30% of their income on rent. Some pay as much as 80% of income on rent; they can’t face the long commutes to work here, and this is not unusual either. Furthermore, UCI (up to 10%) and Irvine Valley College students are increasingly experiencing homelessness.

Irvine can do more to help the populations currently experiencing homelessness and those at risk. According to the 2017 United Way/UCI study, two main reasons people become homeless are: Securing or retaining jobs with sustainable wages (40%) and Finding or retaining affordable housing, including evictions and foreclosures (36%). Family issues, domestic violence, mental health, and drug issues are certainly factors but often, they exacerbate the problem. This means that different kinds of agencies have to collaborate; government alone cannot solve the problem. Homelessness, the housing shortage, and the spiraling out of control rents are regional problems. Collaboration has also got to happen regionally, across city lines, be county-wide.

Integration of the homeless not rejection or segregation is the answer. Fighting the County is a wasteful distraction and the endless grandstanding and politicking must stop. A temporary shelter at the Great Park land has been on the table since at least since May 2017 when Supervisor Nelson first proposed it. The area itself is zoned as a shelter. Not all on Irvine City Council opposed it then: Councilwoman Shea said that a shelter may be the proper use of the land. Councilwoman Fox acknowledged that there are many UCI students who experience housing insecurity. Mayor Don Wagner did not want to over-react. I don’t understand the over-reaction and protests now. Neither do many neighbors. Here are some of their comments;

  • It would be nice if Irvine would take the lead in developing and funding a homeless shelter instead of just blaming the County for poor planning.
  • Why can’t Irvine built a world class shelter? We have no shelters in South County.
  • Use award winning architects to design something that brand and image conscious OC can get behind. Something generic like the Century Villages at Cabrillo in Long Beach or the Skid Row Housing Trust.
  • We’ve got to stop grandstanding and start saying, yes. There’s always a reason to say no to homelessness – they are dirty, drugs, etc. We have to find ways to say yes.
  • Homeless discrimination: the oldest form of racism in the world (they are dirty …)
  • People’s lives are at stake and this is embarassing (sic) and shameful from a city as rich as ours. Not all homeless are choosing this lifestyle, doing drugs, or are criminals.

Homelessness is a survival issue that is also regional. The housing shortages and high rents are regional issues with great impact on the economy and our collective future. Irvine with its strong family values, long tradition of excellence in planning, development and innovation (e.g. OC Great Park, Irvine Community Land Trust), not-for-profits, and faith communities who are already working on the homelessness issue is well endowed to take on this kind of courageous, cutting edge, and collaborative leadership. Irvine is a world leader in innovation, diversity, schools, public safety, with a great plan for inclusionary affordable housing. Given the track record for innovation, cost-efficiency, excellence, Irvine can successfully show what true housing integration looks like: A full spectrum of housing, which includes temporary and emergency shelters as well as permanent supportive housing, not just affordable, market rate and luxury homes. This is the kind of prevailing leadership Irvine needs if we are all to thrive and shine sustainably into the future. Come on Irvine, step up!

Dr. Anita Coleman is a former University Professor (Digital Libraries) and stay at home wife and mother who has lived in Irvine for almost 25 years. Politically independent (non-partisan), Anita volunteers in the city (e.g. Great Park Volunteer Ambassador, Community Police Academy, CERT) and has watched friends flee Irvine/OC in the last decade. Recently, Anita learned about People for Housing OC and began to get involved with their Irvine chapter.

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Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org