Anaheim could have a temporary homeless shelter next to the existing County homeless shelter by the 91 freeway, in the eastern part of the city.

The City Council voted Nov. 20 to negotiate the purchase of a piano warehouse across the street from the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter, moving the planned shelter from La Palma Avenue to Kraemer Place after the La Palma building owner, Bill Taormina, urged the Council to purchase the piano warehouse because it’s better suited for a shelter.

“So my original objective … has been to find the best possible deal for the city of Anaheim. So I put myself at risk,” Taormina told the council.

Taormina, a longtime Anaheim community activist and business owner, said the piano building can be converted into a homeless shelter more easily than his La Palma building.

“It’s an outstanding building. It’s halfway built already for a shelter. All we need to do is easily add restrooms and showers and it will be up and running very quickly,” Taormina said.

The 125-bed shelter is part of Anaheim’s goal of 325 shelter beds as part of a settlement in an ongoing federal lawsuit filed against the city, the County, Costa Mesa and Orange after the County began evicting homeless people living on the Santa Ana Riverbed.

The lawsuit, filed in January by attorneys Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel on behalf of the homeless people, claimed the move criminalized homeless people because they were being ticketed for sleeping in public places while there wasn’t anywhere for them to go.

“Again, this is part of the lawsuit that was brought and we’re in the process of settling. Part of that settlement is that we produce 325 shelter beds,” Mayor Tom Tait said. “So at the last meeting we were about ready to purchase this property at La Palma. Mr. Taormina suggested we hold and consider other options. I think the other building … works better.”

If negotiations on the piano building fail, the city will build the shelter at Taormina’s La Palma building. The price of the piano building is $3.95 million and the La Palma building is $4.9 million.

Cities have been scrambling to find shelter beds since the lawsuit was filed earlier this year and a sense of urgency hit North County cities like Anaheim, Santa Ana, Buena Park and Fullerton after a federal appeals court ruled Sept. 4 that homeless people can’t be prosecuted for sleeping in public places if there aren’t enough shelter beds available. All North County cities are working to build a network of shelters in the region and Santa Ana opened an interim 200-bed shelter Nov. 15.    

Anaheim is also building another temporary homeless shelter on Lewis Street, next to the Salvation Army. The 200-bed shelter is expected to begin operating in early 2019. The Salvation Army, along with the city, is also looking to build a 400 to 600-bed homeless shelter at the site, which will offer transitional housing and shelter to homeless people. It’s the scheduled phase two of the Lewis Street homeless shelter and is expected to open in late 2020. The two temporary shelters are slated to close after the large shelter opens.

City spokesman Mike Lyster said the homeless shelters will help offset some of the problems experienced by residents near places like La Palma Park and Maxwell Park, where homeless people live in large numbers. At night, tents can be seen scattered on sidewalks and behind nearby buildings by Maxwell Park in West Anaheim because people must leave the park by 10 p.m.

“We’ll continue to talk with the owner (of the piano building) and we certainly need to go forward with a second site. We have the expectations of (U.S. District) Judge (David) Carter and the lawsuit settlement and also we need to address this problem for our city … it can be seen at Maxwell Park, it can be seen at La Palma Park … We need to address the secondary impacts that has on our residents,” Lyster said.

On weekday mornings by Maxwell Park, children can be seen walking by small homeless camps on their way to school and many residents have complained to the city about the camps next to their neighborhoods.

Many homeless people at Maxwell Park interviewed by Voice of OC said they don’t have a place to go since being evicted from the riverbed earlier this year.

The 125-bed shelter, whether built at the La Palma building or piano store building, will offer more privacy to the people than other shelters throughout North Orange County.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, City Clerk Linda Andal said while Santa Ana did a good job on its recent homeless shelter, Anaheim aims to give more privacy to homeless people.

“The city of Santa Ana did a phenomenal job and I compliment them, but as we’ve seen in the paper, they do have beds in one large area. Our facilities will actually have partitions separating beds,” Andal said.

Lyster, during a Nov. 26 phone interview, said the partitions will be similar to office desk partitions and each bed will have a night stand.

“The thing that’s appealing about the piano building is that it already has interior buildout we can utilize. For example, it has carpet, insulation, a lowered ceiling … so that would actually save us a little bit on buildout. Where as the La Palma building is also an attractive building, but it would require a little bit more work,” Lyster said.

The Taormina-owned La Palma building, which sits across the street from the Kaiser Permanente Anaheim Medical Center, is a industrial-type building that houses a custom furniture manufacturing business.

Lyster said Anaheim and other north county cities are doing more for homeless people this year than at any other time.

“You’re seeing more today to address homelessness in Orange County than I’ve ever seen and I’ve lived here all my life,” Lyster said, who is 51-years-old.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers Anaheim, Fullerton and Irvine. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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