Thirty-one people (one a day) without fixed abode died in OC in March 2021.  Their names are:

Mark SAIN who died on March 1st in Santa Ana, Anthony REGALADO who died on March 2nd in Santa Ana, Jeffrey WOODRUFF who died on March 6th in Costa Mesa, Ronny QUINTANAR who died on March 7th in Orange, Farhan SAMAD who died on March 9th in Santa Ana, Matthew DANELLA who died on March 9th in Laguna Hills, Timothy DURHAM who died on March 9th in Fountain Valley, Miguel RODRIGUEZ who died on March 10th in Santa Ana, Thomas CROSS who died on March 11th in Lake Forest, Sal FERNANDEZ who died on March 12th in Anaheim, Cherrie WITHROW-JACKSON who died on March 13th in Anaheim, Marcos ZAVALA who died on March 14th in Orange, Lasonya GASTON who died on March 14th in Orange, Lawrence GONZALES who died on March 15th in Anaheim, Giovanni BAUTISTA who died on March 15th in Anaheim, Eric KIERNAN who died on March 16th in Fullerton, Lai VINH who died on March 18th in Garden Grove, Andrew HERNANDEZ who died on March 18th in Anaheim, Juan RODRIGUEZ who died on March 18th in Tustin, Megan CASTEEL who died on March 20th in Mission Viejo, Adam MADIGAN who died on March 20th in Santa Ana, Stephen HAY who died on March 23rd in Huntington Beach, Thomas MANSFIELD who died on March 24th in San Clemente, Brandon SMITH who died on March 25th in Garden Grove, Raymond ALBIDREZ JR who died on March 26th in Midway City, Cary COLE who died on March 26th in Midway City, Dominic WHITE who died on March 26th in Los Alamitos, Angela NEVILSFRAZIER who died on March 28th in Orange, Sammy ALCARAZ who died on March 29th in Santa Ana, William SCHIEBERL who died on March 30th in Westminster, and Preston DODGE who died on March 30th in San Clemente.

In March 2019, the last year before Covid-19, only 18 died.

The last month, as is generally the case, produced both action and inaction on the homeless front in OC. 

First, after being diverted twice in the first four months of its existence to first help out the County and then not altogether nearby Santa Ana, Fullerton’s very well designed and arguably truly ground-breaking Illumination Foundation-run Navigation Center for which hundreds of us in Fullerton had campaigned was happily and formally dedicated on April 8th. A 150 bed facility, 60 beds are to be dedicated to the County-wide need for recuperative care for people experiencing homelessness, while the remaining 90 beds are to be dedicated as an entry point for Fullerton’s homeless population.

Second, with regard to the Fullerton’s Valencia Drive RV situation, it appears that neither the City nor the County have been particularly convinced of the utility of designating some place/places to direct people dwelling in their RVs to go where they could park (exist) legally.  As such, when Fullerton’s City Council votes on April 20th on whether to begin parking enforcement on that street, the Council members will be stuck with the choice of either postponing enforcement, which would certainly continue to exasperate the business owners there, or casting the RV dwellers into neighboring cities to irritate those cities.  It’s a self-afflicted Sophie’s Choice that local and county officials have thus far chosen for themselves and their constituents.   

Perhaps one day they will find themselves out of the box that they built for themselves largely of inertia – “we don’t care, we still don’t think we have to” — with certainly some parsley-like yet solemn-sounding ideological flourishes added as well.  In the meantime, some rather fundamental laws of physics remain valid, notably the principle of “conservation of mass” – people don’t just disappear.  Yes, one can move people around, but they remain … somewhere.   And yes, within the more philosophical principle of subsidiarity, we can all justly decide together where that “somewhere” would best be. 

In the meantime, dumping people causing us challenge into other communities can actually be useful as the one thing that pretty much all of us here in Fullerton agree upon in this matter is that the current “problem” that we encounter on Valencia Drive is not simply a Fullerton problem, it’s a County-wide one requiring a County-wide solution.  And “sharing our joy” can perhaps come to spur action …

Finally, among the people who had been dwelling on Valencia Dr, turned out to be an 83 year old Asian American man, who’s become something of a cause celebre for a number of us. 

To those who’d continue to insist that everyone who’s homeless is a drug addict, I offer this man who could be an (admittedly somewhat stubborn) uncle to any of us.  He simply declared: “My pension gives me $1400/mo.  I should be able to find a room with a bathroom for $500-600/month (already somewhat more than 1/3 my income).  And if I can’t, I’ll just prefer to sleep in my van until I do.”  

The best that city staff can offer right now, and here, honestly it’s not as if they did not try – they did – is a shelter bed in that newly rededicated Fullerton Navigation Center.  Yet, as nice as that facility is – and it is such an improvement to the mat on the floor, 18” from each of one’s eight newest bestest friends each of varying health, and up by 5:30 AM and out by 6 AM into the (in winter) darkness “accommodations” previously offered by the Armory – even an airconditioned 24/7 facility with some real privacy and three good meals a day, is somehow hard to offer to an eighty-three-year-old man.  As one of our Fullerton Councilmembers noted at the Navigation Center’s dedication: “How we treat our poor and elderly is the moral measure of our society.”  Exactly.

What to do?  Beyond being a virtual poster child for permission to allow homeowners to open ADUs in the backs of their properties – not entire apartment buildings with 4-6-10 units but one or two – this man reminds us what a simple effective voucher system could offer the county/state.  There are 161,000 people who find themselves homeless in California.  Even if the State simply offered every one of those who find themselves homeless – as the United Kingdom does – a $100/night hotel voucher, the total annual cost of that program would be $5.8 billion.  If the state offered every single one of them a $1000/mo. rental assistance voucher, the annual cost would drop to $1.9 billion.  And if it offered every single one who found themselves homeless a $500/mo. rental assistance voucher, the annual cost would drop to $950 million. 

Who’d pay for this?  Well, with at least 1/3 of California’s homeless population having come from out of state, and with a new Federal Administration in office that’s open ideas that serve as smart investments, the State could ask the Federal Government to do this. 

Imagine the improvement of quality of life across California if every single person who currently finds him/herself sleeping on our streets would now be sleeping indoors in a hotel room or apartment.   This could be done and the State / Federal government could do this for us if we ourselves would find ourselves ideologically incapable of doing so ourselves. 

Are we willing to ask?  Could at least someone in nearby Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura Counties please ask for us?

Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.

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