Santa Ana Hires Operator for New 200-Bed Homeless Shelter; No Location Yet

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.

Santa Ana is moving ahead to open a new 200-bed homeless shelter by the end of the year, following unanimous Santa Ana City Council approval of a one year operations contract. The location hasn’t been announced.

The contract with the nonprofit Mercy House, which operates the cold-weather armory shelter in Santa Ana during winter months, moves the city closer to fulfilling its recent promise in federal court to open the new shelter by Dec. 31.

City officials said in court the first 50 beds would be available within 30 to 45 days of ratifying the contract – roughly mid-October to early November – with all 200 beds coming online 60 to 90 days after the contract is ratified, which would be between mid-November and mid-December.

The new contract came less than a month after the county renewed its contract with The Midnight Mission to operate the 400-person Courtyard shelter in downtown Santa Ana, at $2.1 million per year. Santa Ana’s new 200-bed shelter contract with Mercy House would cost around $1 million more than the Courtyard operations contract, for about half the amount of people.

City spokesman Jorge Garcia, who also is an assistant to the city manager, said the county’s Courtyard contract costs less becausethe Courtyard operates on county-owned land.

“Our contract with Mercy House has a rental component to it. That’s something that is built into the cost. And [the $3.1 million contract amount] is a maximum, so it could be lower if the lease is cheaper,” Garcia said after the meeting. “There needs to be a location first.”

Garcia said after the Sept. 18 council meeting an exact location still is unknown because Mercy House continues to scout viable sites, though Mercy House agreed in the contract to have the first 50 beds available within 45 days.

Santa Ana Councilman Jose Solorio before the vote praised Mercy House for being a longtime partner of the city, but emphasized the need for the city to be involved in the location selection process.

“Regardless of what (location) we choose, there are going to be some criticisms,” Solorio said.

The shelter will admit homeless people from Santa Ana regardless of their past drug or alcohol use and operate 24 hours a day, according to a staff report.

“No drugs, paraphernalia, alcohol, or marijuana (recreational or medicinal) will be permitted in or around the shelter,” according to the “Sample Shelter Expectations” in the contract.

Garcia said the Mercy House shelter is meant to be temporary and is contracted for one year.

The city and county have their long-term sights set on a 600-bed shelter slated to open in 18 to 24 months at 3100 and 3120 W. Central Ave, a generally industrial neighborhood. The property owners, however, have privately and publicly said they will not sell or lease the land for a homeless shelter under any circumstance, leaving that location in question.

“We do not want to sell our property at any price, under any condition, because we fear the terrible implications for the surrounding area,” said Rob Neal, managing partner of the property owner, Hager Pacific Partners, in comments to the City Council Sept. 4.

Because of this, Garcia said, the city is prepared to keep the Mercy House shelter operating for another year if the 600-bed shelter doesn’t go as planned.

“We’re looking at the Mercy House shelter in the short term,” Garcia said. “But funding is in place for one more year, if needed.”

Councilman Vicente Sarmiento raised concerns during the Sept. 18 city council discussion over the shelter using city funds that are meant to go toward affordable housing. Sarmiento asked City Manager Raul Godinez whether or not the city has a plan to replenish those funds.

Godinez said the city does not, but mentioned the possibility of selling unspecified city-owned property to offset any potential depletion of reserves, a suggestion supported by Councilwoman Michele Martinez.

The Mercy House agreement comes after U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is hearing a civil rights case brought by lawyers for homeless people, said north and central county have shouldered much of the homelessness responsibility, while the southern cities have yet to commit to a shelter site.

The county’s lack of “a site in south county…causes a disproportionate share to go to another part of the county, and you’ve known that from the beginning,” Carter told top county officials Sept. 7.

Earlier this month, lawyers for homeless people said they will be expanding their lawsuit to include south county cities.

Anaheim was the only other city to commit to a shelter within a specific time frame during the most recent court hearing on Sept. 7. Anaheim officials promised to create a 200-bed shelter at a Salvation Army property in an industrial area by the end of the year.

Earlier this year, Huntington Beach and Westminster agreed to pool funding for a 50-bed shelter in the unincorporated Midway City between Seal Beach and Santa Ana. And last week, Tustin officials committed to opening another 50 shelter beds by early next year.

However, plans for the Midway City shelter are stalled amid reports Huntington Beach and Westminster are struggling to find funding for the project, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord