Gov. Brown Signs Bill Creating OC Homeless Housing Agency

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The former Plaza of Flags homeless camp in the Santa Ana Civic Center, which was cleared out in April. Photo taken March 30, 2018.

Orange County is on track to form a regional agency to build housing units aimed at helping curb the growing homeless crisis after Gov. Jerry Brown signed key legislation Tuesday.

“I think what’s important are the next steps. Mainly, how many cities will participate in the new venture and can they effectively coordinate with the county government. So, that remains to be seen — I am hopeful. There have been expressions of support from many cities already, including most of the larger cities,” said Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) in a Tuesday phone interview.

Daly, along with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), introduced the legislation in May, nearly three months after the county cleared the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless camp.

“What I’m also hopeful about is the prospect of private philanthropic funding to join forces with the county and the cities. I feel that this joint powers authority should be able to attract substantial private money,” Daly said. “I think there’ll be a serious effort to raise private money and I’m talking about wealthy individuals and foundations in Orange County.”

Permanent supportive housing has services like medical care, drug treatment programs, job placement programs and mental health care on-site.

The Association of California Cities — Orange County, a lobbying organization, began approaching state legislators in April for help in forming a countywide trust that will help alleviate financing problems that plague supportive housing projects.

“This legislation is a product of teamwork, and refreshing cooperation in Orange County. This was a bipartisan effort to find permanent housing for our struggling residents,” said Quirk-Silva in a Tuesday news release. 

The Assembly Bill acknowledges the homeless problem is continuing to grow in the county and mentions the homeless camps.

“The County of Orange is in the midst of a fluid and worsening homelessness crisis. Since 2013, the county has experienced a 53-percent increase in the unsheltered homeless population, many of whom have sought shelter over the last five years on the Santa Ana riverbed and at the Orange County Civic Center in Santa Ana,” reads the bill.

A UCI study on homelessness in the county found that nearly 70 percent of the 252 homeless people interviewed have lived in Orange County for at least 10 years.

“Homelessness is caused primarily by lack of sufficient income or job loss combined with high costs of housing in Orange County,” reads the study.

Brown signed the bill four days after Anaheim and Santa Ana committed to building 400 shelter beds during a federal court hearing Sept. 7 as part of a civil rights lawsuit brought against the county, Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa for ticketing people for sleeping outdoors.

The anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances that every Orange County city has adopted have come under scrutiny since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled such ordinances are unconstitutional if homeless people have nowhere to go.

“We hold only that ‘so long as there is a greater number of homeless individuals in [a jurisdiction] than the number of available beds [in shelters],’ the jurisdiction cannot prosecute homeless individuals for ‘involuntarily sitting, lying, and sleeping in public,’” reads the unanimous Sept. 4 ruling by the three justices in Martin v. City of Boise.

Supportive housing projects nearly always face public opposition from residents near the proposed sites. Residents fear drug use and crime will increase in their neighborhoods.

Fullerton is in the midst of public pushback against an affordable housing project on city-owned land on Commonwealth and Basque Avenues. The City Council was slated to sign an exclusive negotiating agreement with Pathways of Hope in June, a nonprofit affordable housing builder, but ultimately delayed voting on it until Oct. 18 after residents voiced their concerns at the June council meeting.

The UCI study found the county and OC cities spend nearly $300 million annually on homelessness — with cities bearing the brunt of the cost at $120 million. Researchers also factored law enforcement and healthcare costs into the number.

The study found it’s cheaper to house the homeless people in supportive housing and could save the county and city roughly $42 million annually.

“The cost savings data on housing the homeless in general, and particularly the chronically street homeless, show a consistent and compelling pattern: costs are markedly lower among the homeless who are housed, and this is especially true for the chronically homeless,” the study reads.

Pathways has been doing community meetings in an effort to inform residents about supportive housing and the services it will have on site.

Daly said county and city officials told him they plan on doing public outreach on supportive housing projects, like Pathways is doing, to help educate the public.

“I believe that is one of the stated goals. I’m citing the city officials and county officials who’ve asked me to carry this bill. I believe that public education and outreach will be a part of their plan and if it’s not it should be a part of their plan,” Daly said.  

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