Fullerton homeless people living in their cars will at some point be able to legally park and sleep in an area within the city, which mostly prohibits overnight parking, and will have access to bathrooms and homeless services. 

“Am I concerned that this will become a magnet, that it will overwhelm what we’re trying to do? Yes I am,” said Councilwoman Jan Flory. But, she added, “The homeless issue has become explosive. Last year at this time the estimate was we probably had 200 homeless (people). Now it’s 50 percent more and we probably have more than that … It’s become a problem that’s become quite unmanageable. So we have to try different things.” 

The parking program, which doesn’t have an estimated start date because it still needs a parking lot in Fullerton, will be a six-month pilot program for people whose licenses are registered to an address in the city. The hours will be from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and will also be staffed by security guards and employees from the nonprofit homeless services provider, the Illumination Foundation. 

The Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday, authorizing City Manager Ken Domer to move forward to become the first city in Orange County with a safe parking program. Councilmembers Jennifer Fitzgerald and Bruce Whitaker dissented.

Although Fitzgerald expressed support for the parking program, she wanted to make it contingent on if U.S. District Judge David Carter would allow the city to enforce its anti-camping laws after 250 temporary shelter beds open at the National Guard armory in Fullerton Oct. 15. 

Because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled cities can’t prosecute homeless people for sleeping in public places when there’s not enough shelter beds, Carter has warned cities against enforcing anti-camping laws until they build enough shelter beds for the area. Carter oversees the settlement — which stems from a lawsuit against the County for its homeless policies — that mandates cities in North and Central county build enough shelter beds for homeless people before anti-camping laws can be enforced. 

“My reasoning for that is, on this City Council, we have continually acted in good faith to give options to those on the streets … offering services and beds and by and large they will not accept that,” Fitzgerald said. “All of our good faith has to be respected at some point.”

Councilman Ahmad Zahra said he would like to ask Carter if they could enforce anti- camping laws, but didn’t want to make the program contingent on his decision. 

“I would be very reluctant postponing this program based upon a decision of a judge,” Zahra said. “I do think we can go and take this to the judge and say, ‘Hey this is what we’re doing, we are showing good faith.’”

Whitaker also expressed support for the parking program, but voted against it because it wouldn’t come back to the City Council for final approval once a site is found. 

“I think it puts him (Domer) a difficult political situation,” Whitaker said. “It really needs to come back to the Council for a vote, for an approval of some sort.”

Mayor Jesus Silva also agreed with Fitzgerald’s stance on the anti-camping ordinance, but didn’t want to hold up the safe parking program on Carter’s decision. 

“We should go to the judge and say, ‘Hey we got x y and z.’ We need some help addressing people on the sidewalk,” Silva said, referring to the sidewalk on Gilbert Street, near Valencia Drive where a homeless camp as popped up. 

“I just want to move forward on this, I don’t want a delay,” Silva said. “I trust Mr. Domer … I trust his judgement on this call.” 

Whitaker suggested the city encourage both Fullerton Community College and California State University, Fullerton, to also implement similar safe parking programs for homeless college students. 

Domer said homeless people living in their cars will be easier to get into housing than other parts of the homeless population that have mental illnesses or substance abuse issues. 

“The folks who are living out of their cars are more likely to have jobs than those living on the sidewalk and less likely to have mental illnesses,” Domer said, adding it will be easier to connect them to services.

Meanwhile, Fullerton has teamed up with other North County cities and is helping fund homeless shelters being built in Placentia and Buena Park.

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. 

And Fullerton is also in the process of trying to build a center that has both shelter beds and recuperative care beds, which are for homeless patients released from hospitals who need a place to fully recover. 

The Council directed its Planning Commission to begin revising some language in Fullerton’s shelter ordinance to make it easier to build the multi-service center. It will require public hearings and two votes by the Council to update the ordinance. 

Roughly 7,000 people are homeless in OC, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time count, a  federally mandated biennial homeless population headcount. North County has 2,675 homeless residents, with 1,596 people sleeping outside, according to January’s count and Fullerton had 308 people sleeping outside. 

Silva, at the Sept. 23 court hearing, told Carter that Fullerton was moving towards opening up 150 beds, consisting of 90 shelter beds and 60 recuperative care beds. 

“And on that note, we’ve also declared a state of emergency, so that we — if need to, we can change the zoning for any location that we might find for this recuperative care center,” Silva told Carter, according to the court transcripts. 

Carter applauded effort. 

“But the point is you’re making incredible strides and not waiting for Brea and Placentia. Plus the armory’s opening which’ll give us some resources,” Carter said. “But if this happens, this is an added addition of 150 beds that was totally unexpected.” 

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), who’s married to Mayor Jesus Silva, told Carter the state will keep providing funds to address homelessness, but the cities and the County need to apply for them. 

“We will continue at the State to try to do as much as we can. And there are quite a lot of funds coming down from the State. But again, each city and the County has to apply for those funds. We can no longer use the excuse that Orange County does not get its fair share,” Quirk-Silva said. 

She continued, “Orange County will get its fair share if they apply and they do all the things that are necessary. As was noted in this Court a handful of months ago, we leave a lot of money on the table for the lack for even applying for the funds.”

Carter also said the North County cities’ agreement to work together to fund and build homeless shelters helped save taxpayer money from being spent on litigation and gives a chance for cities to adjust the program. 

“And the benefit of working together in these agreements is that if a Court makes a decision, that decision is frozen for 10 years. We have no chance to learn. We have no chance to modify. We’re stuck with that decision for 10 years or longer. By these agreements, we’re working together,” Carter 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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