Momentum Grows Around North OC Shelters as Shortage Remains

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

People packing up their tents and belongings in order to get ready to go to Anaheim's 200-bed emergency homeless shelter on Dec. 21, 2018.

Momentum continues to grow around building homeless shelters in North Orange County and Southwest Los Angeles County, as local officials look to tout their efforts as a state and national model.

At an update Tuesday in federal court, city officials said they plan on presenting this week to a statewide conference of city managers about their efforts to build new shelters and enforce anti-camping laws through settlement agreements.

Another 100 shelter beds will be coming online in Placentia on March 19, followed by a further 100 beds in Buena Park in June, officials said. They set a March 25 date to plan to clear out – with on-site court supervision – a homeless encampment in Placentia that has about 40 to 60 people.

“You’re a national model,” U.S. District Judge David O. Carter told Sheriff Don Barnes at the hearing, complimenting his department’s restraint when addressing homeless camps.

Under an agreement reached last year, mental health outreach workers talk directly with homeless people who are required to leave encampments, as sheriff’s deputies stand by for security.

The city of Bellflower in Southwest Los Angeles County, drawing from this approach, is building its own 50-bed shelter and started having licensed social workers accompany Los Angeles County deputies when engaging with homeless people. The social workers’ involvement “has been very well embraced,” said Bellflower Mayor Pro Tem Juan Garza, who also serves as president of the Los Angeles County chapter of the League of California Cities.

Stanton officials are also pursuing the creation of a mobile treatment center for homeless people on Beach Blvd., with a property already in escrow, Mayor David Shawver said at the hearing.

Still, even with the additional beds coming online, North Orange County will have an extra 200 beds compared with about 900 unsheltered homeless people who were counted in their cities last year, according to official data.

Lawyers for homeless people raised concerns the two upcoming 100-bed shelters would not have enough capacity to provide a true alternative for homeless people shelter if police enforce anti-camping laws. It was unclear Tuesday if Placentia’s anti-camping enforcement would be limited to the known camp or extent across the city.

Also on Tuesday, Carter rejected Santa Ana’s request to limit county transportation of homeless people from other parts of the county to the cold-weather armory shelter in the city.

Under questioning from Carter, Santa Ana officials acknowledged they had no data showing where homeless people at the armory came from, while emphasizing the disproportionate amount of county shelter and services in Santa Ana draws homeless people from around the county.

Santa Ana officials now are seeking data about where people who stay at the armory came from, though it’s unclear how long that will take to gather.

On the overall effort to build shelters, Carter urged local cities to call Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and apply pressure to focus more funding towards them to deal with the homeless issue,

“Quite frankly the governor needs to wake up and pay attention,” Carter said at the hearing.

While much of the state’s focus has been on larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Carter said many smaller cities in LA County and OC – which together have 122 cities – of the homelessness issue.

Turning to officials from smaller cities like Fullerton, Whittier and Bellflower that are moving forward with shelter plans, Carter said, “You need a funding stream. And right now they’re paying attention to the big 13 [cities]” in California.

“But the smaller cities aren’t getting the resources to get it done. And the governor I don’t think understands that yet. He needs to supply this money to the cities that are being successful,” Carter said.

Carter also pressed for an explanation of why the governor hasn’t put up emergency shelter at the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, which closed late last year.

In the past, Carter has called on Orange County to use the Fairview Center as a temporary shelter for homeless people with mental illnesses.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the funding and Fairview concerns at Tuesday’s hearing.

Carter also took issue with local hospitals executives’ effort, in an August letter, to undo $60 million of the $100 million the health agency CalOptima committed to homeless medical outreach.

“I read it in the Voice of Orange County. It’s a letter that says [the hospitals] object to $100 million being devoted, [out of] a $4.1 billion budget, towards homelessness,” Carter said at Tuesday’s court hearing, adding he has questions for CalOptima’s board about that. He previously called the letter “appalling.”

Santa Ana Is Rejected In Effort to Further Limit Homeless Transportation

As part of a new lawsuit, Santa Ana officials emphasized on Tuesday their residents are being deprived of crucial police and medical response services – as well as affects on business owners – due to the concentration of county homeless services in their city.

“We shelter more homeless people than any city without question,” said Deputy Chief Ken Gominsky of the Santa Ana Police Department. “All we’re asking for is that other communities have an opportunity to help.”

“We spent $25 million dealing with the homeless. It’s a tremendous burden for us,” said Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido. “We can’t be the default dumping ground.”

Laura Knapp, a lawyer for the county, criticized the lawsuit as baseless. She said Santa Ana did not actually present any evidence supporting its request to limit the transportation of homeless individuals.

“These are not legal issues,” Knapp said during the hearing on Tuesday. “We don’t think this lawsuit has any merit.”

Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said that they are in the process of gathering evidence of the alleged homeless dumping, and said if county officials were opening shelters elsewhere in the county, Santa Ana wouldn’t be seeking a court order.

Santa Ana filed a Public Records Act request with the county for information regarding the alleged dumping of homeless individuals in Santa Ana, she said.

“The idea that the county would ever withhold information is absurd,” Supervisor Andrew Do said at the hearing.

Defending himself against criticism that the county hasn’t lived up to a promise to open shelter in South County, Do said the county provides services when “the cities work with us.” South County city officials have so far refused to open new shelter in their cities.

According to Orange County’s latest homeless census last January, Santa Ana provided shelter to 939 out of 1,764 homeless individuals in the city, the most out of any city in Orange County. The number of homeless people counted in Santa Ana is more than double the total number of homeless individuals in the 12 cities of South County.

Pulido is one of three Democrats running against Do in the primary election next month for Do’s seat on the county Board of Supervisors. During the hearing, Pulido was seated on the far opposite side of Do, with city and county officials between them.

Santa Ana officials emphasized that under the county’s current system at the armory, when homeless people leave in the middle of the night, they often affect the surrounding Delhi neighborhood.

“When they walk away, they become Delhi’s concern. They become the business owners’ concerns,” Gominsky said at the hearing.

“If the only city in [central OC] that [has such a shelter] is Santa Ana, by default we are going to have the biggest problems.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC news intern. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.