The growing homelessness crisis is a countywide and regional issue for which every city must take responsibility.
It is time for the Orange County Board of Supervisors to recognize that fact, and to recognize that the City of Santa Ana has gone above and beyond to do its part. The city currently hosts nearly 1,000 shelter beds, has robust supportive and affordable housing programs and spends millions of dollars a year to provide services and address the impacts of the homeless population.
Yet the Board of Supervisors plans to replace its aging 450-bed Courtyard shelter in downtown Santa Ana with a similarly sized shelter on Yale Street, near neighborhoods, a school and a park in southwest Santa Ana. I oppose this location, as do residents of the surrounding area.
The Board of Supervisors should look elsewhere to build their new shelter. The closure of the Courtyard is an opportunity to ask other cities to help bear the burden of the county’s homeless.
For years, City of Santa Ana leaders and residents have demonstrated great compassion for those less fortunate among us, and we have worked diligently to find humane solutions.
The City of Santa Ana has been spending nearly $17 million annually on homelessness-related matters. In the current fiscal year, we are expecting to increase that amount to about $25 million as the Santa Ana City Council has made finding solutions to this problem a top priority.
Meanwhile, the county has failed to spend tens of millions of dollars that it has available to address homelessness.
Santa Ana’s shelter, The Link, provides 200 beds for those experiencing homelessness, along with resources for housing, employment and social services. This City-funded program has resulted in over 100 homeless individuals being placed in permanent housing this past year.
The city also plays host to a 200-bed winter shelter at the National Guard Armory.
Santa Ana additionally is home to nonprofit organizations such as the Wiseplace women’s transitional housing program, which provides 60 beds along with supportive services for women experiencing homelessness. The Salvation Army Hospitality House is a 75-bed residential emergency shelter for homeless men located in Santa Ana.
In October, the City began contracting with City Net, a nonprofit social services provider that actively seeks out homeless individuals and works to place them in housing and connect them with resources to help them get back on their feet.
Additionally, we created a Quality of Life Team to deal with encampments, trash and other homeless-related issues. In December 2019 alone this team had over 750 contacts with homeless persons.
When someone is able to get off the streets and into temporary shelter, the goodwill of Santa Ana doesn’t end there. The city is home to more than 400 units of supportive housing.
We’ve worked hard as well to ensure that formerly homeless people don’t fall through the cracks again and to prevent low-income residents from becoming homeless in the first place. As of last fall, Santa Ana had 1,600 affordable housing units with 857 more in the pipeline.
If it were only about taking care of Santa Ana’s own homeless population, these efforts might be enough to serve the needs of our community. But for years, other Orange County cities have pushed their homeless residents out, and many end up in Santa Ana.
In 2018, the City of Santa Ana conducted a point-in-time count of the homeless living here and found that over 50 percent of the 1,600 people counted had arrived in Santa Ana from other parts of Orange County. That total homeless count was up from 1,000 just a year earlier.
Yet County officials have done little to address this abuse of Santa Ana’s resources.
In fact, the Board of Supervisors has failed in its duties to find a geographically and socioeconomically fair distribution of homeless shelters and services across the county. Instead, the Board bowed to pressure from more affluent cities, reversing its decision to open shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel.
The County’s decision to open the Courtyard emergency shelter in downtown Santa Ana in 2016 led to a public health and safety crisis in the heart of our community. The poor conditions of the shelter, its problematic operation and its location in a vibrant business corridor have negatively impacted surrounding businesses and the community as a whole.
Now the Board of Supervisors just wants to move the problem to another part of Santa Ana.
It was even suggested at a Board meeting last year that the Yale Street site serve not only Santa Ana’s homeless, but also those of nine other cities in the Central Service Planning Area and perhaps other parts of the county as well.
This is not a fair and equitable solution.
It is time for the rest of Orange County, from the suburbs to the canyons to the coast, to make sacrifices and share the responsibility of this homelessness crisis. And it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to make this happen.
The Board must hold to account cities that aren’t doing their part, stop dumping countywide problems in Santa Ana and represent all of their constituents – even and especially, the people of Santa Ana.
As a public servant and proud Santa Ana resident, but most importantly, as a father, I have had enough.
Vicente Sarmiento is a Santa Ana City Councilmember. He and his family have lived in and around Santa Ana since 1965. Councilmember Sarmiento graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and received his Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. He currently serves as the President of the Orange County Water District Board of Directors.
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