County Asks National Guard for Extensions on Armory Homeless Shelters

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The homeless camp in the Plaza of Flags at the Santa Ana Civic Center. County healthcare workers began to assess the people living there and get people ready for shelter or housing. April 2, 2018.

County officials have asked the National Guard for 90-day extensions to use the Fullerton and Santa Ana armories at night for homeless shelters.

Each of the armories house about 200 homeless adults over night, are run by a county contractor and are open only during the winter. The armories are slated to close April 15.

County Spokeswoman Jennifer Nentwig said the National Guard has not responded to the request as of Friday afternoon, but “we expect to hear back soon.” The county filed its 90-day extension request with the National Guard last week but Nentwig said she didn’t have an estimated date for its response.

The county is struggling to find shelter beds after clearing homeless people out the Santa riverbed, which brought a federal lawsuit against the county for evicting people without providing a place for them to go. Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange also are named in the lawsuit.

The county decided to move 400 of the riverbed homeless people to motel rooms for 30 days, but that number increased to nearly 700 people. The motel stays ended March 30.

The county agreed March 17 to assess and move the roughly 200 people at the Santa Ana Civic Center into shelters at the urging of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is handling the case. County healthcare workers and contractors began to assess and move the civic center residents Monday.

Since the moves out of the motels and civic center started, year-round shelters like the Santa Ana abandoned bus terminal, called the Courtyard, and the Kraemer shelter in Anaheim have been operating at what the judge considers maximum capacity. Until recently, the county planned to put up to 450 people in the bus terminal, but throughout the court hearings, Carter said he thinks the capacity is 380 people.

Facing a shortage of shelter beds, the Board of Supervisors called an emergency meeting March 19 and decided to pursue homeless shelters in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Laguna Niguel.

Huntington Beach council members later that day voted to pursue a lawsuit against the county for the proposed shelter following the public outrage. Irvine and Laguna Niguel voted March 20 to pursue lawsuits against the county for the proposed shelters.

The public outrage and council actions from the three cities forced the supervisors to rescind its vote March 27. Nearly 2,000 Irvine residents showed up to protest the shelters at the supervisor’s meeting, chanting “no tent city!” They rode to the meeting in over a dozen chartered buses.

Irvine filed its lawsuit the same day the boarded rescinded its vote, but Mayor Don Wagner said the city isn’t pursuing the lawsuit since supervisors backed off the shelter proposal.

At Tuesday’s court hearing that included mayors and city managers throughout the county, Carter urged the cities to “step up” and begin working with the county on locations for homeless shelters.

“I have no authority (over the cities not in the lawsuit), but hopefully I can bring you all together,” Carter told the mayors.  

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.