Kriz: Another Fourteen Die on Orange County’s Streets

Fourteen more people died “without fixed abode” in Orange County in May.  They are: Robert DEJA (May 1), Leonardo CUELLAR (May 1), Angel GALINDO (May 3), Oscar PARRA (May 7), William WALLS (May 14), German MENDEZ-GARCIA (May 17), Johnny MARION (May 19), Mark MOEN (May 21), Ricardo EUGENIO (May 22), Andres CHAN (May 24), Anita RHOADES (May 26), Joseph SHERWIN (May 29), Francisco MARTINEZ-AGUILAR (May 30) and Todd COLEMAN (May 31).

So what’s happened this month to help bring this number down?

As is generally the case, there have been bright spots and shadows.  The bright spots have been the palpable sense of movement at CalOptima to get a sense of the gravity of the problem and then to find responses. Even OC Supervisor Andrew Do’s challenge to CalOptima to move faster (and its responses to him) I see as blessings.  Cal Optima’s Board Meeting on June 6th, left me and others among the advocate community feeling that finally there’s an “A-team” stepping up to seriously take up the challenge of finding solutions to the issue of homelessness here in OC (and, of course, beyond).

It would be great to see a serious conference, dare one dream, by September, October or November involving some of the people who worked on the UCI Study on Homelessness, Cal Optima, some serious experts in Urban Planning and even Tax Law to see how we can incentivize the rapid creation of more assisted living units and units for low and very low income residents out of already existing housing stock (building anything will take forever).  Okay, on the State level a bill that would have allowed rezoning of single family dwellings into multiple units failed, why not look at something similar on the County level?  Why not give tax breaks to apartment owners who accept Section 8 vouchers?  Why not find a way to pay rent out of MediCal dollars, yes, “a prescription for decent housing,” for medically distressed people who were found to be homeless?

On the darker-side of the equation, we continue to approach the construction of emergency shelters with an eye for humiliating or punishing the people who would go there.  Consider the plans for the still to be built shelter in Buena Park, which is now to be build out of converted storage containers, box cars.  Why not be honest, just keep the wheels on the box cars and “deport the people east…” at some point?

Then, the choice of Mercy House to run the still to be built Buena Park facility conforms to the “if this must be done at all, then let it be done for the least possible financial cost” approach.

Yes, I understand that Mercy House was founded by a beloved Catholic Priest, from the Karcher (Carl, Jr’s) family no less. Still it must be said that in recent years Mercy House has been running some of the lowest cost and most problematic homeless facilities in the County.  Bridges on Kraemer figured prominently in the recent ACLU report and this past winter the operation of the Fullerton Armory was so barebones / draconian (not entirely Mercy House’s fault nor for that matter the City’s / National Guard’s – they were operating under conditions set largely by NIMBYs) that the facility was rejected by the homeless people themselves.  A facility for 200 people averaged 70-80 in a city, Fullerton, that nightly averaged 300+ people sleeping on its streets.  Even a government official called the 70-80 people who did sleep at the Armory last year “sheep.”

Does it have to be that way?  Of course not.  Mercy House and other providers (and yes, the National Guard itself) could start saying no to contracts that violate their consciences.

What the County needs is first shelters and then shelters that are worthy of the name.  If we ourselves would not sleep in the shelters that we build, then we should not ask others do so.  We can definitely do better than we are.

And last month’s bill for waiting to do so was another 14 lives.

Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.

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