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A record 40 people died “without fixed abode” in January. Their names are:
Dong YI who died on January 2 in Westminster; Miguel LOPEZ who died on January 4 in Fullerton; Samantha HERZIK who died on January 5 in Westminster; Michael LLAMAS who died on January 5 in Santa Ana; Dionte VALDEZ who died on January 5 in Santa Ana; Leuren LOSITO who died on January 6 in Anaheim; Salvador AVILABRAVO who died on January 8 in Santa Ana; Jose PANO MEDINA who died on January 12 in Anaheim; Albert ARCHIBEQUE JR who died on January 12 in Westminster; Edith GUZMAN who died on January 14 in Westminster; Dean TELASKY who died on January 14 in Garden Grove; Leon WILLIAMS who died on January 15 in Santa Ana; Kathleen HURLEY who died on January 15 in Santa Ana; Hermenegildo ORTEGA who died on January 16 in Mission Viejo; Jeffrey JENKINS-SMITH who died on January 16 in Buena Park; Algerine CLARK who died on January 16 in Orange; Rick GARCIA who died on January 16 in Orange; Max GAMBOA who died on January 16 in Anaheim; David BANKS who died on January 17 in Huntington Beach; Hector AGUIRRE who died on January 18 in Brea; Patrick MCKENNA who died on January 19 in Huntington Beach; Eva AMEZCUA who died on January 20 in Anaheim; Martin ZAPATALARA who died on January 20 in Fullerton; Donald PIERCE who died on January 20 in Laguna Beach; Nicholas JARVIS who died on January 21 in Anaheim; Daniel HUDSON who died on January 23 in Garden Grove; Antonio RODRIGUEZ who died on January 24 in Orange; Harold ROSE who died on January 23 in Anaheim; James SALISBURY who died on January 24 in Garden Grove; Lonnie MORGAN who died on January 24 in Anaheim; Jacob CONROY who died on January 24 in Huntington Beach; Juan TORRESCHAVEZ who died on January 25 in Orange; Andy TRAN who died on January 26 in Santa Ana; Carlos CORTES who died on January 27 in Santa Ana; Steven RILEY who died on January 28 in San Clemente; Dylan NOEL who died on January 28 in Santa Ana; Mario ALFARO VASQUEZ who died on January 28 in Westminster; Steven SMITH who died on January 29 in Orange; Luis POLANCOARGUETA who died on January 30 in Newport Beach; and Neva SELLEY who died on January 30 in Fountain Valley.
Once again, this is nearly twice the number as the previous year when 23 died. So it would appear that the relatively “good month” of December, when for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in California the same number of people died during the month as in the year previous, was simply the result of unseasonably good weather.
Other concerns can be raised as well:
During this past month, I was asked by the good people at the currently shuttered (as a result of Covid-19) El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana for advice regarding the growing number of people who find themselves homeless sleeping in their parking lot. The City of Santa Ana has begun to fine the Centro and yet the Centro finds itself in a tough spot both practically and morally. The practical concern is finding the funds to put up a fence or hire a security guard to “protect” a parking lot that is not being used because the Center is shuttered. The moral concern is that many of those associated with the Centro cannot but see those people sleeping on their grounds as refugees, perhaps internal refugees, but refugees nonetheless.
So I made it a point to visit the people taking the refuge in Centro’s grounds perhaps 2-3 blocks from the Hall of Supervisors in downtown Santa Ana and a similar distance from the Courtyard Shelter in one of the adjacent parking garages. The second person I talked to, Peter, declared what should be obvious to all: “I’m not going to go into any shelter because (1) Covid-19 is there (indeed Nick Gerda of the Voice of OC reported this past month that there have been Covid-19 outbreaks in 17 of OCs shelters infecting some 400 people sheltering there as well as 65 staff), and (2) they don’t let you leave. They are prisons.”
It should not surprise anyone that seeking to incarcerate people in shelters whose safety we cannot credibly guarantee because we find their presence in the corners of our lives annoying would meet … at least some resistance. Yet the Centro’s being pressured to cooperate with the authorities in this matter.
Then in my part of the County, in Fullerton, the new year brought the sun-setting of the county’s only safe parking program — and calls to begin enforcing the city’s new anti-RV ordinance. The Covid-19 lockdown has postponed the enforcement of this cruel new law. However, with the Covid-19 situation improving, a fair amount of the residents (and some on the City Council) have been itching to start enforcement.
This past Wednesday, I visited a street, Valencia between Acacia and State College, in an industrial part of town along the railroad tracks where some 20 RVs are parked, a scene worthy of The Grapes of Wrath. Six of those RVs have been towed in recent days for having expired registration tags and being inoperable (Yes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” … to hurt people). Every one of those vehicles towed kicks another couple of people truly onto the streets.
A number of the persons living in those RVs told me that they had applied to enter into Fullerton’s Safe Parking Program when it was running and had been rejected. One admitted, “Yes, I had been in jail … seventeen years ago. Yes, I’d understand if I was rejected because I had been in jail even five years ago, but seventeen?” But such it is, when every sentence becomes a life sentence and indeed an extended death sentence.
Another pointed out something that I myself did not know: “You know, there’s not a single private RV Park in all of Orange County that would allow one to park an RV that’s more than 10 years old. And even if you found one, the rents are $1200/mo. That’s almost the price of rent for a small apartment.” So you’re a senior, you put your last dimes into an RV thinking that you’d be set and could move if rent in some place got too expensive and then you find that your RV has become “too old” to park somewhere, anywhere.
To me the “safe parking” issue is really the easiest to solve. Yes, we can certainly invent reasons to make this complicated (as well as expensive). But in its simplest iteration, all that’s needed is a designated parking lot at night – in a park, by a beach, at a stadium. Those whose vehicles break down could be helped – towed and fixed – so that they don’t become a public nuisance to the rest of us.
Again, if we have trouble being good, can we at least try to be smart?
Now, all this may be disheartening. But hearing the legitimate issues of those we’re supposed to be trying to serve can help us find solutions that actually succeed. Let’s try to succeed, rather than work to grind the already poor into their early graves.
Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.
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