Fourteen people died “without fixed abode,” homeless, in Orange County last month, in January.
They are: George Benjamin MAXWEL (Jan 2), Katlyn Alexandra JENICAN (Jan 4), Fernando Guerrero CERVANTES(Jan 7), Jade Dean GREBE (Jan 9), Denise Lee JENSVOLD (Jan 16), Catherine Fay DODSON (Jan 25), Nicholas Matthew TAMULINAS (Jan 26), Martin Gene KATZMANN (Jan 27), Michael Edward BERGLER (Jan 28), Reanna Marie EBANY (Jan 28), Jose VELAZQUEZ (Jan 30), Steven James MARTIN (Jan 30), Tommy Eugene SALAZAR (Jan 31), Jose Albert AGUIRRE (Jan 31).
Once again, we are called to ask why? We’re told that as many as 1300 people sleep today in shelters, but another 3400 (two and a half times as many) sleep on the streets. Again, we’re called to ask why?
That 1300 would be sleeping in shelters at all is an achievement, of sorts. The shelters were forced into being in good part by the OC Catholic Worker lawsuit, filed in response to the County’s plans since executed to take down the make-shift homeless encampments at the Santa Ana River and Santa Ana Courtyard. The logic of the lawsuit, whose resolution was famously taken-up by Judge Carter, was if the County’s homeless are not to live in makeshift encampments scattered across the County, then they must be offered alternative places to sleep. The subsequent Boise decision in the fall reinforced this position.
That shelters are going up is certainly good. From my perspective, having 12-20 people sleeping on my church’s grounds, I’m forced to ask why they not being enthusiastically embraced by the people being served. For instance, the Fullerton Armory, with capacity of 200, less than a mile away from us remains at 1/3 capacity. Why?
Well, I ask the people sleeping on my grounds. Why don’t you go? (I’d want them to go, if they were to freely do so, as sleeping under a tree by us is no picnic for any of us). I’ve already written that one of the main obstacles to the county’s homeless deciding to take advantage of the shelter mats, cots and sometimes beds available, is that they’re not allowed to take their stuff there. The Voice of OC recently reported that there’s only one shelter at the Courtyard that accepts walk-ons, hence people with their stuff. A second reason is that many shelters, including the one at the Fullerton Armory expels the people it offers its mats to by 5 AM, when next to nothing is open, literally into the darkness. Finally, when the City of Fullerton did ask me if it would help if one of the bus stops for the Fullerton Armory become our Parish, with the people presumably leaving their stuff by us (joy), I was given a quite surprising but firm answer by almost half of those sleeping by us: “It’s a petri dish there, Father,” meaning, one can get sick there, catch the flu, bed bugs, etc.
If we build shelters, we have to make them respond to the needs of those they are supposed to serve. The requirement that there be “no walk-ons” or that those sleeping at the shelters be expelled at 5 AM are not designed to “respond to the needs of the people being served.” Instead they are designed to placate just about every other interest, from neighbors to volunteers to the owners of the facilities being used. Shouldn’t these interests matter? Sure, but what about the people being served?
Triaging the people coming to the shelters, sending those who come ill to the County’s medical facilities should not be hard at all (assuming one has the will to do it) and “de-lousing” is a basic function of any refugee camp. I honestly believe that if the homeless people coming to the shelters were promised that they would be “deloused,” that this would be a draw for them that they even could be “talked down” with regards to their possessions if those that they kept would be “de-loused” as well. Taking seriously the people being served inevitably makes services offered more effective.
Perhaps the County’s Interfaith / NGO Leaders could organize an inspection tour / watchdog group – with homeless involvement – to help ensure that the shelters being built live up to their purpose / name. In the meantime, let’s remember 14 people (about one every other day) died “without fixed abode” in this County as we struggle to figure out what to do.
Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.
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