Nineteen people died “without fixed abode” (homeless) in Orange County in November. They are: Theresa CHERRY who died on November 3 in Newport Beach, Jeffrey WYNGAARD who died on November 4 in Laguna Hills, Felipe VERDUGO who died on November 7 in Santa Ana, Raymond PENDERGAST who died on November 7 in Buena Park, Laura CITORES who died on November 7 in Newport Beach, Todd HODGES who died on November 10 in Santa Ana, Alonso MARROQUIN who died on November 13 in Westminster, Steven KNEISLEY who died on November 17 in Buena Park, Ayrton JASSO PERES who died on November 18 in Anaheim, Kristin MOSHER who died on November 19 in Mission Viejo, Julian TAFOLLA who died on November 19 in Fullerton, Mayra DELFIN CARRETO who died on November 21 in Fountain Valley, Leonardo VEGA who died on November 25 in San Clemente, Kimberly JOHNS who died on November 26 in Anaheim, Anthony PHILLIPS who died on November 27 in Anaheim, Israel MATADAMAS VASQUEZ who died on November 28 in Santa Ana, Jose BARRIENTOS who died on November 30 in Buena Park, and Jose GUERRERO who died on November 30 in Santa Ana.
That would be 192 deaths since the beginning of the calendar year with one more month to go. This is something of a decrease, about a 9%, from this time last year. Still, few if anyone, is applauding. This has been a year of coming to terms with the costs, human above all, of homelessness here in Orange County. There is a greater sense that people will continue to die on our streets, at a rate of one every day or two, until our sleeping on our streets will be given a place to go.
It should also be becoming increasingly clear that “the problem” is not “resistance” on the part of the people experiencing homelessness to services but rather the continued lack of services. This past month, after approval of funding for a new 150 bed navigation center / recuperative care facility in Fullerton, Judge David Carter approved the closing of an encampment of about 15-20 people by our grounds at St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, but not before the people sleeping in the encampment were offered hotel rooms and later rooms in micro-communities run by the Illumination Foundation which will be running the new navigation center / recuperative care facility. Virtually ALL the people sleeping in the encampment took the deal. This follows similar experiences last year when virtually all the 40-50 residents of the Maxwell Park encampment in Anaheim accepted a similar deal following the opening of the Anaheim Way shelter and previously when hundreds of people who had been sleeping along the Santa Ana river bed accepted if one month / temporary hotel rooms offered them as the County sought to close that increasingly large encampment. People will choose such services when they actually exist.
The challenge remains. The county has about 1/3 of the beds needed to shelter its 7000-10000 homeless population. In the coming year, it will have to find ways to increase the number of such beds and even more importantly find permanent housing for the people who come to sleep in the shelters. Otherwise people by the thousands will continue to sleep on our streets and people by the hundreds will continue to die on them each year. But at least we’re getting a sense of the true scale of the problem and then what’s needed (actual spaces) to get people off of our streets.
Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, is the Pastor at St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Fullerton
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