Kriz, et al: Improve the Dignity of the Emerging Emergency Homeless Shelter System in Orange County

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

A sign placed on the Broadway side of Maxwell Park, where a nearly 30-tent homeless encampment was until it was cleared out by Anaheim city officials and people were sent to a 200-bed homeless shelter. Dec. 21, 2018.

We, the undersigned

Call on our cities and county to ensure that the system of homeless shelters being constructed in our cities and county BE HUMANE and take into account the fundamental dignity and actual needs of the people that these shelters are created to serve.

Specifically, we urge you to implement the following recommendations:

(1) Create a system for secure storage of the personal property of people experiencing homelessness. Without reasonable provision for the storage and safety of homeless people’s possessions (for example, a site with a tub or shopping cart – sized public locker system), homeless encampments are inevitable.

(2) Meet the basic medical and hygienic needs of the homeless people in our midst. Beyond simply assuring access to public restrooms throughout our cities / county during the day, we ask that you:

a. Establish a system of easily accessible medical / hygienic facilities (perhaps through medical vans or hygienic equivalents) to be made available to homeless people during the day, so that they could be treated for simple ailments like colds or the flu, as well as have their persons and their belongings “deloused” (freed from bed bugs / lice)

b. Establish a system of infirmaries and, if needed, one-night quarantine wards for those arriving ill or infested with bugs, so that homeless persons arriving at the shelters for the night can become confident that they will not simply contract the flu or pests while sleeping at the shelters.

(3) Do not close shelters (that is, do not expel the people that the shelters are serving) before a reasonable hour (7-8 am). No one should be forced to leave a shelter at 5 or 6 am, literally into the cold and darkness, before most other businesses and services open.

(4) Establish a system of “day centers,” often called “multipurpose centers,” so that people experiencing homelessness have safe places to go to during the day where they could have many of the above mentioned needs met, as well have places to receive counseling or simply to rest / recreate.

(5) Respect the right of people experiencing homelessness to file complaints against homeless service providers and allow them to document the problems and complaints they have about the shelters through photography, video, or audio recordings.

We believe that these are not difficult matters to resolve and their resolution will not only make the system of emergency shelters being constructed more humane but also much more effective. Many more homeless persons will take advantage of a humane system built around their needs.

Finally, we are under no illusion that humanizing the emerging Emergency Shelter System will in itself “solve” the larger problem of homelessness in our county. That problem will only be solved here when our county’s 5,000 people currently experiencing homelessness become able to secure permanent housing. Still, while this problem is confronted and solved, we believe that our county’s weakest members deserve shelters worthy of the name.

Among the initial signatories are:

Most Rev. Timothy Freyer, Auxiliary Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange

Teresa “Tita” Smith, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Orange

Eve Garrow, ACLU-Southern California

Housing is a Human Right OC

Irvine for Everyone

Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO)

Orange County Equality Coalition

Orange County Poor People’s Campaign

Peace Builders of Orange County

People’s Homeless Task Force Orange County

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange

Servite Friars serving in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange

The Islamic Institute of Orange County

The Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos

The Congregational Church of Fullerton

The First Christian Church of Fullerton

St. Boniface Catholic Church, Anaheim

Unitarian/Universalist Congregation of Fullerton

Women for: Orange County

Clergy from five Catholic, five Protestant, two Jewish and two Unitarian/Universalist Parishes / Congregations / Temples in Orange County

Petition and other signatories.

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Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org