North County Cities Move Ahead on Homeless Shelters

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.

North Orange County will soon have more shelter beds for homeless residents in the area with Buena Park and Placentia now moving to build shelters through an arrangement where other cities in the region chip in financially.

Fullerton is the latest city to commit to the shelter efforts after the City Council unanimously voted March 19 to sign a memorandum of understanding among 13 north Orange County cities.

The move is largely the result of efforts from the region’s city managers, the County’s expansion of regional homeless care programs and a federal lawsuit against the County over its homeless policies.

There are 13 North Orange County cities in the County’s north Service Planning Area (SPA), which divided the county into three regions to: North, Central and South. The planning areas were created to help combat homelessness.

“The spirit of cooperation has been in North Orange County for a long time. We have a North Orange County city managers group that meets monthly. It used to be six cities, but other things have increased it,” Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer said.

The North Orange County Public Safety Task Force was created by the state Legislature in 2017 and included 10 cities in the region’s work group. The County’s creation of SPAs increased it to 13 cities.

The shelters are also a response to the ongoing federal lawsuit filed January 2018 against the County for policies that criminalized the homeless, like no camping and loitering ordinances coupled with the lack of shelter beds.

Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange were also in the lawsuit, but have since settled with the court on the condition they build more shelter beds. Five South County cities were sued in late February for their homeless policies.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who presides over the lawsuits, has warned cities against prosecuting homeless people for sleeping in public places if the homeless population is greater than available shelter beds. A ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year mandates jurisdictions can’t prosecute homeless people for camping in public spaces if there’s not enough shelter beds available to them.

“We’re trying to work with the judge (Carter) and make sure we are doing our share,” said Fullerton Mayor Jesus Silva. “We’re hoping that we can move on with this and get us a little bit more tools to help the homeless — we want some options.”

While Buena Park and Placentia will host homeless shelters, the other North County cities will help fund construction costs, along with operating costs.

Fullerton will contribute nearly 26 percent of the two shelters’ construction costs at $309,931 and the city’s share of the expected annual costs will be $34,558, according to the March 19 staff report.

Domer said the cooperation of North OC cities could be a model for the rest of the county.

“We’ve been working together for well over the last year on addressing what the federal court has been asking and quite frankly been doing a good job. I think we are a model of the collaboration and responsiveness that others can follow once they see our product,” Domer said.

The staff report estimates the annual cost of running both shelters at $3 million. The County committed $1.2 million to help with the annual costs. The shelters will also get $1.7 million from state funding derived from real estate document filings fees established by 2017’s Building Homes and Jobs Act.

Fullerton also figured out a funding model that doesn’t eat into its general funds.

“All funding will be from non-General Fund sources to include the City’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund and Senate Bill 2 (Atkins), the Building Homes and Job Act (SB 2). Annual operating expenditures will be from SB 2 funding,” reads the staff report.

Although the total expected costs to buy and construct both sites is $14.3 million, the California Homeless Emergency Aid Program will cover $12 million of that startup cost after Buena Park and Placentia, representing North Orange County applied for the funding.

Separately, Orange County qualifies for $15.6 million in homeless aid money, according to August 2018 funding estimates from the state Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

Buena Park plans to host at least one 100-bed shelter and Placentia’s prospective shelter site is still being negotiated with a property owner. The Buena Park City Council faced criticism and concerns by residents early February over the proposed shelter.

The move comes before the April 2 federal court hearing for the County and the five South County cities: Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. Carter also requested mayors, police chiefs and city managers from all 34 OC cities attend, along with the CalOptima Board of Directors, the county’s health insurance program for the poor.

According to Placentia’s website, the city is still negotiating the property near the border of Yorba Linda, on Orangethorpe Avenue, in an industrial part of town. Placentia officials are looking to model the shelter after the County-run, Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim. That means the short-term shelter won’t allow walk-ins or people with active felony warrants to stay there.

Buena Park is also considering running its shelter the same way.

There were a total of 1,837 homeless people living in North Orange County, according to a 2018 count conducted by the regional task force. Most people, 1,474, are sleeping outdoors. Anaheim has the highest amount in North County at 857 homeless people, followed by Fullerton at 352 homeless people.

Preliminary numbers from the federally mandated biennial Point in Time count conducted in January found over 3,400 people are homeless in OC. Of that preliminary number, slightly over 1,300 are in North Orange County. But those numbers don’t include people sleeping in shelters. The count also needs to be cross-checked to make sure there isn’t duplicate counts and the final numbers are expected to be released in April.

Anaheim has already built two of its own shelters and both are operated by nonprofits: a 224-bed shelter run by the Salvation Army and a 102-bed shelter run by the Illumination Foundation.

Fullerton is also the first city to sign onto the newly formed Orange County Housing Trust — a recently created countywide body aimed at helping fund affordable housing and permanent supportive housing — meaning the housing has services like medical, mental health, job counseling and other various social and health services. It signed the agreement at its March 19 meeting after County Supervisors okayed the framework March 12.

“There’s no quick solution, but we’re trying to fix that. I think the ultimate solution is the long term. We need to build more housing to stabilize rent,” Fullerton Councilman Ahmad Zahra said.

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