Anaheim, Buena Park and Fullerton Team Up to Battle Homelessness

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Mayor Doug Chaffee and Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald during the Fullerton City Council meeting when he announced Anaheim, Buena Park and Fullerton met with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in a collaborative effort to create a plan to address homelessness in the area. May 1, 2018.

The mayors, city managers and police chiefs of Anaheim, Buena Park and Fullerton met with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter Tuesday morning about creating a plan to combat homelessness that would be a “model” for the rest of the county.

“He (Carter) realized we had done more (than other cities) and encouraged us to join together to see if we couldn’t do a special project to create a model,” Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee said during the City Council meeting.

“He (Carter) also acknowledged that south county doesn’t do its share — he said that very strongly,” Chaffee said from the dais.

Carter is overseeing two federal lawsuits against the county. One lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless population after the county moved to evict the people without providing a place for them to go. The cities of Orange, Anaheim and Costa Mesa also are named in that lawsuit.

The second lawsuit, filed in February on behalf of the disabled homeless, alleges the county excludes disabled people from county services, according to the lawyers.

In an attempt to get all Orange County cities under Carter’s jurisdiction, the Santa Ana City Council unanimously voted April 24 to sue the other 33 cities.

Throughout the court hearings over the past three months, Carter has repeatedly said he wants South County cities to “step up” and contribute their “fair share” to the homeless population.

“I appreciate what Judge Carter’s doing. He’s asked that our three cities … report back about mid-June,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee said, in a quick interview after the council meeting, Fullerton, Buena Park and Anaheim are looking for a site for some type of shelter, but it’s still too early to give specifics.

“We’re looking for a site,” Chafee said. “We need a site, then a plan, then ask for the money (from the county) … Without a site, we can’t have a plan.”

He said it would operate somewhat like the Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter in Anaheim. Fullerton gave a onetime contribution of $500,000 to the shelter. Homeless people have to be screened for outstanding warrants and referred to get into Kraemer’s 24-hour shelter. Sex offenders aren’t allowed.

“I think if we could get him a model project, that’s our goal … It would be somewhat like Bridges,” but without the restrictive background checks, Chaffee said.  

Chaffee this year is a candidate for the Orange County Board of Supervisors seat now held by Shawn Nelson, who is a candidate for Congress.

The City Council also authorized staff to review city ordinances about homelessness and bring back suggested changes to the council. According to the agenda staff report, some city codes are outdated and need revision, like one that limits churches to house only 12 people per night in emergency beds.

“Part of the direction to staff is that we work with the plan. Part of that (plan) is collaborating with our other cities, Anaheim and Buena Park,” Chaffee said.  

Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald directed staff to come up with a plan to hire more personnel, along with a budget, and show it to the county in an attempt to get the plan funded.

“I would like to see our staff put together a plan for additional police officers and mental health professionals that also includes a budget with it that we take to the county to get funded,” Fitzgerald said during the meeting.

Council members also liked the Orange County housing authority proposal from the Association of California Cities — Orange County (ACCOC) and supported the association’s proposed 2,700 homes with support like mental and health services for homeless people, known as “permanent supportive housing.”

“That is not just a pie in the sky plan,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m the president of that organization this year. We have committed to working with the county — all 34 cities.”

Chaffee voiced support for the trust plan, but was wary of south county’s efforts.

“I would support the suggestion that we consider the countywide housing trust … I don’t know how we get all the cities in there, it may be more regional,” Chaffee said. “I’m concerned about south county not doing their share. Do we include them in the trust? Then it’s just one more thing for them to screw around with — pardon me.”

Carter, during the April 4 court hearing, called on south county mayors to take their “proportional” share of the homeless population and the mayors agreed to find a homeless shelter site at the April 19 meeting of south county mayors.

At the meeting, the mayors proposed a remote site near Silverado Canyon on Santiago Road, next to a library and a preschool. Public pushback followed immediately and the idea was shot down by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors April 24.

Homeless services manager Rebecca Leifkes said homelessness in Fullerton increased 54 percent in the past five years and the city is now home to 496 homeless people. Police calls about homelessness have also increased from 2,125 in 2012 to 6,749 calls last year, she said.

Leifkes also said Fullerton has 1,508 affordable housing units for “low, extremely low and very low” income earners, which are defined as 30 to 60 percent of the area’s median income, according to the staff report.

Under the ACCOC plan, Leifkes said Fullerton would need 120 permanent supportive housing units in order to help spread the responsibility around the cities in the county.

Additionally, Fullerton is home to the National Guard armory that holds at least 200 beds and typically operates as an overnight homeless shelter during winter months. But due to the riverbed and civic center clearouts, combined with the lack of shelter beds in the county, Gov. Jerry Brown extended the shelter use April 10 for another three months. The Santa Ana National Guard armory shelter was also extended.

Council members also levied criticism at the county for its unspent Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) money.

A Voice of OC review of county funds in March found at least $230 million of unspent funding that could be used to help alleviate homelessness. Of that amount, $186 million is MHSA funds and another $73 million to $136 million in “unassigned”  general fund money

“I just want to be sure that we keep asking and looking for that funding,” Councilman Jesus Silva said. “I want to make sure we get to the bottom of where (the MHSA money is).”

Fitzgerald said the county doesn’t do enough to keep track of the MHSA money.  

“The county has 200 programs right now that they fund through that funding … but there’s no comprehensive audit of those funds,” Fitzgerald said.  

The council also supported four different state Senate and Assembly bills centered around homelessness and mental health. Three of the bills garnered unanimous support from the council.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker didn’t support Senate Bill 1045, which is a pilot program for San Francisco and Los Angeles Counties that would create a process for appointing a conservator for someone who is chronically homeless and can’t take care of themselves. He said it was too broad and could be abused.

Additionally, Assembly Bill 1971 increases the definition of “gravely disabled” to mean people who can’t provide for themselves and pose a danger because they failed to receive mental or medical health services. Under the proposed bill, introduced in January, people who are “gravely disabled’ could be involuntarily held for up to 6 months if they continue to be prove an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The other two bills relate to funding, including one from Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) which would require all counties report their MHSA funds online, including revenues and expenditures.

“$200 million of that seems to have gone to Orange County and it’s sitting somewhere in a bank account,” Chaffee said during the meeting.

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