Gardner: Proposal for New Homeless Shelter in the Canyons Inappropriate

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the Mayors of South County and it included Irvine as well. Our mission was to find a way to handle the large numbers of homeless people that were allowed to accumulate in central Orange County and for whom the federal court now ordered the County to find shelter. The estimates for how many people need this service vary from day to day, but the figure most often quoted is well in excess of 1,000.

Between the court and the county they determined to divide the county into three zones and to ask each zone to come up with a solution.

The solution chosen by the Mayors at the meeting I attended was to house as many as 400 people in the Library of the Canyons property which is on East Santiago Canyon Rd. I was the only Mayor opposed to this plan. My opposition was based on the fact that warehousing 400 people is not an acceptable model to deal with this problem. I presented a paper and made verbal arguments that the warehousing model has been abandoned for more than 50 years as it proved inefficient and ineffective in dealing with people with mental illness as well as people with developmental disabilities.

My pleadings fell on deaf ears.

I also argued that the site being selected was inappropriate. It sits in relative isolation from any possible services or amenities, in an area designated as “very high fire hazard” risk. Adjacent to the site is a preschool with 37 children. The site sits on a dangerous road known for speeding and collisions. There are no sidewalks or street lights. It’s hardly the place where people with physical and mental problems should be housed. Nor can the local community sustain losing a much needed library and preschool, both of which have been recently remodeled and updated, and which are the only such resources within miles

Once again, my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Many of the people who made this decision had never been to the site, and much of the information given to us at the meeting was either incorrect or only partially correct. Mayor Pro Tem Basile and I visited the site the day following the decision and learned for ourselves, first hand, how inappropriate the site is.

The cities in South Orange County have been doing a good job in dealing with homeless people, and there are active programs and resources in all our cities. With the County’s help we can augment our existing programs to do a better job to absorb the surplus allowed to accumulate in the rest of Orange County. Warehousing people is not the solution, and even if it were, warehousing them at the Library of the Canyons will create far more problems than it will solve.

Dr. Jim Gardner is Mayor of Lake Forest, however, his comments here are not official City Policy. Dr. Gardner was a licensed Clinical Psychologist, former University Professor, and worked with drug abusers, mentally ill, and developmentally disabled individuals. He had experience working in private practice, group home settings and large institutions. During Hurricane Katrina he lived in homeless and displaced persons shelters in New Orleans where he went to rescue animals.

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