An emergency 200-bed homeless shelter is slated to open near Angel Stadium Dec. 20 after the City Council decided its other two shelters, which are scheduled to open in early 2019, won’t be up in time to help homeless people escape the winter weather.

“We too (Southern California) have a winter … and it breaks my heart to think of hundreds of people living in the parks in the cold, wet weather this winter and during the holidays,” said Mayor Harry Sidhu at the Dec. 6 special meeting about the emergency shelter.

The City Council voted 5-1 to open the shelter near Angel Stadium, which is planned to operate for 90 days with a possible one-month extension. Councilman Stephen Faessel voted no and Councilwoman Denise Barnes was absent due to medical reasons.

Faessel said he didn’t vote for the emergency shelter because the other two temporary shelters will be in the eastern council district he represents, which includes Angel Stadium, the Honda Center and the Santa Ana Riverbed, where many homeless people came lived before being evicted by the County in February.

“Certainly we are in a homelessness crisis. We see it everyday — we live this,” Faessel said. “However, I cannot support this based upon the fact that I have heard no other options, no other alternatives, no other spaces that this could be put, or any of these could be put other than District 5. My District 5 residents elected me … to represent them, to look out for them, to represent their needs and to protect them when necessary.”

The Santa Ana Riverbed evictions prompted a federal lawsuit against Anaheim, the County of Orange, Costa Mesa and Orange. Attorneys for the homeless people alleged the evictions criminalized homeless people because they were being ticketed for sleeping in public places and there weren’t enough shelter beds for them sleep in. Many homeless people said they didn’t have anywhere to go.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who’s overseeing the lawsuit, urged the County and cities for months to build more shelter space for the homeless. 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.    

As part of the lawsuit, Anaheim agreed to build at least 325 shelter beds in the city. It’s currently building two temporary shelters: a 200-bed at a Salvation Army building on 1340 South Lewis Street east of Disneyland and a 125-bed shelter at 3035 East La Mesa Street, next to the County-run Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter. The 200-bed shelter will be run by the Salvation Army and is slated to open in January and the 125-bed shelter, operated by The Illumination Foundation, is scheduled to open in February.

A permanent, large 400 to 600-bed shelter will open at the Salvation Army site, dubbed Center of Hope, in late 2020.

The map below shows the planned shelter locations. If the map below does not display properly, please click here to view.

The State College Boulevard emergency shelter could cost the city up to $1.4 million, including $600,000 for construction and $800,000 for the Illumination Foundation to operate the shelter.

Although the money is not subtracted from the $600,000 in the staff report, City Manager Chris Zapata and Sidhu said business organizations around the city have committed to contribute in-kind donations including furniture and construction materials. Some of the named businesses were the Anaheim Ducks, the Angels and Disney.

After a business owner brought up legal concerns during public comment, Councilman Jose Moreno said potential legal challenges from nearby businesses could delay or prevent the shelter from opening. If it was delayed too long, Moreno said, it would defeat the purpose of opening an emergency shelter since the other two planned temporary shelters will be open early 2019.

“As it relates to these legal challenges that may come to us … that if this doesn’t open before the Salvation Army (shelter) opens, how are we assured that money comes back,” Moreno asked.

Local business owner Bill Taormina, who’s also a longtime Anaheim activist, approached the microphone during council deliberations and said the priority should be opening the shelter and not the money. He also said he would cover any legal costs from a lawsuit and reimburse the city should the shelter fail.  

“Please compare your vote to the value of a human life. And any number on that screen is not worth a human life,” Taormina said. “I’ll say on public record that I’ll take 100 percent of responsibility if this project has a negative impact … they can sue me.”

Moreno asked for clarification.

“Did I hear you correctly that you would reimburse the city for any legal costs the city incur?”

“Yes, 100 percent. Put it in writing, I’ll sign it tonight,” Taormina said. “I will guarantee that every penny you spend, if this fails, will be returned back to the city of Anaheim … including legal fees. There is zero risk.”

Meanwhile, homeless people at West Anaheim’s Maxwell Park have been sleeping in tents on the West Broadway sidewalk, in front of the Haskett Library. During the Dec. 5 and 6 rain storm, many people took shelter inside the library.

R. Joshua Collins, a homeless advocate, was passing out frozen burritos and fruit Dec. 6. The homeless people said that a nearby 7-11 convenience store lets them use the microwave to heat their food.

Nearly 30 tents line the sidewalk, which is across the street from homes and within a quarter mile of an elementary school. Some tents sit across the street from the park in front of a plant nursery, which is next to a neighborhood.

The tents are supplemented with tarps, old signs, painter’s plastic, pallet wrap and any other material people can find to help waterproof their tents. Many of the homeless people living there used to live on the Santa Ana Riverbed.

Calls to the Anaheim Police Department about the homeless people at Maxwell Park have increased, as well as drug and theft crimes in and around the park, according to a study by the Anaheim Police Department. The study, presented by Deputy Police Chief Julian Harvey at an Aug. 14 council meeting, looked at several parks throughout the city — most of them in West Anaheim. Maxwell Park had the highest number of homeless-related crimes reported at 40 out of 47 total reports.

The conditions at Maxwell Park, and other West Anaheim parks like Twila Reid and La Palma, were brought up during the meeting.

“Unfortunately West Anaheim has gotten the bulk of the homeless people,” Councilwoman Lucille Kring said.

Zapata read a statement from Barnes, who represents West Anaheim.

“The condition at Maxwell is nothing less than a crisis,” read Barnes’ statement. “The Anaheim Police Department has stepped up enforcement on all fronts and we increased the budget by half a million (dollars) … I want not only Maxwell park, but all of Anaheim, to be restored to the city we love.”

Sidhu said the new shelters will help Anaheim achieve its 325-bed goal so it can start enforcing its anti-camping laws.

He said during his campaign for mayor he heard “more and more neighbors who felt like they can no longer enjoy our city parks because they don’t feel safe and because of growing homeless encampments.”

“I want the first accomplishment (of the new City Council) to be giving a Christmas gift to all of Anaheim, to the homeless to get them off the street … and to residents to give them their parks back,” Sidhu said.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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