Gov. Brown Oks Extensions for National Guard Armory Homeless Shelters

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The Plaza of Flags homeless camp in the Santa Ana Civic Center, which is scheduled to be cleared out starting April 2. Photo taken March 30, 2018.

Gov. Jerry Brown granted a 90-day extension Tuesday for the two emergency homeless shelters operated each night throughout the winter at the National Guard armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton.

The move comes as county officials scramble to find enough shelter beds for people displaced from the Santa Ana riverbed and people who are being moved from the Santa Ana Civic Center. Each armory shelters 200 people each night but the homeless people must leave early each morning.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) said she, along with Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Santa Ana Councilwoman Michelle Martinez worked to get the proposal in front of Brown.

“So this certainly doesn’t resolve the issue, but it does give us a little bit of time so we don’t have an additional 400 back on the streets,” Quirk-Silva said in a Tuesday phone interview. The two armory shelters were scheduled to close April 15.

The 90-day extension comes at a critical time as the county is struggling to find shelter beds after clearing homeless people out of the Santa Ana 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 originally agreed 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.

Quirk-Silva, in a Tuesday phone interview, said she and Martinez spoke with Carter about the armory situation April 6.

“… he (Carter) just shared the urgency about the shelters remaining open,” Quirk-Silva said. “So we put in a request to the governor and were able to sit down face-to-face with the team and let them know it was incredibly important to us and we were able to speak directly to the Colonel … with the National Guard.”

Although county officials said they put in an extension request to the National Guard, Quirk-Silva said no one from the county contacted her.

“I know they sent a letter, but they hadn’t worked through us on that,” Quirk-Silva said, adding the direct approach was better. “I think it was all of us who said we’re going to go directly to not only the governor, but the National Guard as well.”

During a March 22 court hearing, Carter suggested city and county officials urge Brown to call a state of emergency.  

“Let’s call Jerry Brown” to get a state of emergency, Carter said, adding he would like county and city officials to form a coalition and reach out to the governor.  

Carter’s proposal came after a public backlash to the county’s proposed emergency shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel. County supervisors backed off the plan March 28, when nearly 2,000 Irvine residents protested outside the Hall of Administration.

Quirk-Silva said she and other leaders haven’t asked Brown to declare an emergency yet.

“We have not gotten to that part of the conversation yet. But the county having the governor making the state of emergency — that’s, I think, a little ironic considering they’ve had almost $250 million to spend on mental health and homelessness and let this situation get to where it was.”

Carter has been insistent on locating that money throughout the court hearings and has repeatedly called on cities to work together on solutions.

Quirk-Silva also admonished cities like Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel for not “being part of the solution.” All three cities voted to sue the county within 24 hours of the supervisors’ March 19 emergency shelter vote.

“I agree with the federal judge, Carter, that everyone has a responsibility and needs to play a role,” Quirk-Silva said. “The cities who don’t want to take a role in this are pushing it to cities who are dealing with this … actions speak louder than words.”

At the March 17 and April 3 hearings, Carter told city officials from across the county to stop “dumping” people in Santa Ana and reminded them he has evidence to prove it’s happening.

Not only has there been pushback against new shelters from cities and their residents, there’s been some pushback from supervisors as well.

On the March 27 broadcast of the John and Ken radio talk show, (at about 4:40)  Supervisor Todd Spitzer said if a state of emergency were called, counties could pool their resources and “look at places geographically” for shelters. He also said he didn’t want them near Orange County’s coast.

“Really? In Newport Beach, what a mile from the coast? Should I give everybody an umbrella, a lounge chair and a pina colada? I mean is that my responsibility? Or can I put people in the high desert and give them services at least where land is cheap and they’re away from everybody else?” Spitzer said.

His statements drew the ire of Quirk-Silva.

“I was outraged to hear that one of the supervisors (Spitzer) suggested we send them all the way out to San Bernardino. Completely outrageous,” Quirk-Silva said. “I mean everybody’s got to be part of this solution: from the smallest cities to the largest cities.”

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

Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this report.