Roughly 1,300 people are sleeping in homeless shelters throughout Orange County, with all big shelters located in north and central Orange County in cities like Santa Ana and Anaheim, according to unofficial numbers provided to Voice of OC.

There were over 3,400 people sleeping on the streets of OC as of Jan. 25, according to unofficial numbers from the County’s federally mandated biennial homeless headcount, for an unofficial total of about 4,700. Officials said that number will change as workers comb through the data to eliminate double counts. The unofficial total count of 4,700 homeless people in the County could be as much as 2017’s population estimate of 4,792.

The totals don’t include homeless people in jails because they aren’t counted as part of the every two year federal study.

The County isn’t releasing the unofficial shelter headcount numbers from the federally mandated biennial Point in Time count because workers are combing through data to make sure counts aren’t duplicated.

“The County is not releasing preliminary Point In Time data at this time since the data is in the process of being analyzed and de-duplicated. We are looking forward to sharing the final results with the community by April,” said County spokeswoman Jennifer Nentwig.

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The shelter number compiled by Voice of OC is a mix of people in County-run and city-run shelters, coupled with independently run shelters around the county. There could be more than 1,300 people living in shelters because at least six independent shelters didn’t respond to questions about the number of people currently staying there.

The County’s top homeless services coordinator, Susan Price, said all homeless shelters’ populations will be part of the final 2019 headcount, not just the County-run shelters Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim, the Fullerton and Santa Ana National Guard armories and The Courtyard at an abandoned bus terminal in downtown Santa Ana.

“We count every shelter that is serving homeless designated populations. So, any homeless shelter in the County of Orange is what we were counting,” Price said, adding nonprofit homeless service provider 211 OC conducted the shelter counts.

“Because they (211) maintain the roster of who these agencies are … so it’s not just The Courtyard Kraemer, or County-run things,” Price said.

She also said homeless people serving jail time aren’t counted because of guidelines and homeless definitions provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“In surveying people in institutional settings, it is important to remember that HUD’s definition of homelessness does not include people ‘living’ in health care facilities, foster care or other youth facilities, and corrections programs and institutions,” according to HUD’s guidelines.

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Santa Ana opened its 200-bed shelter In November near the Tustin border and Anaheim opened its interim 200-bed shelter in late December next to Angel Stadium. Anaheim, partnering with the Salvation Army, opened up a 224-bed shelter Jan. 30 and is transitioning people from the interim shelter to the Salvation Army-run shelter a couple blocks away. The OC Register reported the Salvation Army shelter is the first in the county to have an open-air style set up with modular buildings.

The Anaheim, Santa Ana and the County-run shelters all require homeless people to get referrals from either a contracted homeless service provider — like City Net — or from law enforcement before they can sleep there.

The only walk-in shelter available in OC is The Courtyard, a 400-bed homeless shelter at an abandoned bus terminal in Santa Ana. Although 200-bed homeless shelters operate at National Guard armories in Santa Ana and Anaheim during the winter months, they don’t allow walk-ins. Instead, people have to meet at rally points and get bused in.

“If someone called me today and said I need to get into a shelter tonight, the answer is you can get into the armory if you don’t have too much property or a pet,” said attorney Brooke Weitzman, who represents homeless people in a federal lawsuit against the County over its homeless policies. “Especially in the rain, The Courtyard is going to be full. And The Courtyard is the only walk-in shelter right now.”

All the city-run shelters stem from a federal lawsuit over the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless camp evictions in January 2018. Attorneys for the homeless people, Weitzman and Carol Sobel, argued the move “criminalized” homelessness because people were pushed to city streets where they were ticketed for camping and loitering. Weitzman and Sobel argued since there weren’t enough shelter beds available at the time, the anti-camping and loitering ordinances should be suspended.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who’s overseeing the lawsuit, warned cities and the county against prosecuting homeless people for camping until there were enough shelter beds built. A U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in September bars prosecuting homeless people for sleeping in public places if a city or county has less shelter beds than its homeless population. North and Central County cities have been scrambling to build shelters since the decision.

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According to the 2017 homeless population estimate, there were 4,792 homeless people in the county — 2,584 slept outside, including in cars and RVs, and 2,208 slept in a shelter. In 2015, there were 4,452 homeless people in the county, according to the biennial estimate. Of that number, 2,201 slept outside and 2,251 slept in shelters.

The Courtyard, which opened in 2016, is the county’s first large year-round homeless shelter. Before that, many homeless people relied on the armories in winter months and various church and community shelters throughout the rest of the year. Although the shelter was originally supposed to sleep 300 people, the number swelled to 400 since then.

Carter said, last year, no more than 380 people should sleep at the abandoned bus terminal.

“I think it should be 380 [people] or less,” Carter said in May, calling the shelter “over capacity.”

Over the past few months, some homeless people told Voice of OC they have been waiting for a referral for a shelter and the armories are ineffective because they would have to give up belongings and pets in order to go.

Some also said the transportation situation at the referral-based shelters, which don’t let people walk out, is too limited.

Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city is looking to add more bus stops to and from the shelters. He also said the nonprofit homeless service provider Illumination Foundation, which runs the shelter next to Angel Stadium, fixed shower and plumbing issues.

“You’re going to have some issues, so we’re taking away lessons for the next two shelters (Salvation Army shelter and the planned shelter next to Kraemer Place) … we’re happy to report that Illumination Foundation has been addressing all those issues.”

Lyster also said a local business, Camp Bow Wow, will help spay/neuter pets at the new Salvation Army site, along with immunization shots.

Weitzman said the entrance and exit policies of shelters help reinforce the public’s perception that all the homeless people are criminals.

“A person just can’t walk into a shelter, so it’s certainly going to make it harder for individuals … that many of them (shelter operators) got into this idea that they need to be shuttled — it’s almost like the cities and County have been endorsing the public perception that these people are criminals when the data shows they are not,” Weitzman said.

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

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