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Thirty additional people died “without fixed abode” in Orange County in June 2021.  Their names are:

Sean DUNNE who died on June 2nd in Santa Ana, Byron BURTON who died on June 2nd in Garden Grove, Alfredo GARCIA ENCARNACION who died on June 3rd in Santa Ana, Richard HOOK who died on June 4th in Santa Ana, James KINNEY who died on June 4th in Tustin, Timothy HANRAHAN who died on June 6th in Anaheim, Eddy LOPEZ who died on June 8th in Fountain Valley, Steve ROJAS who died on June 10th in Fullerton, Pablo BARRIOS who died on June 10th in Newport Beach, Kevin CARRICO who died on June 13th in Midway City, Maria MARTINEZ who died on June 14th in Anaheim, Gerardo AVILA who died on June 15th in Tustin, Adam ROSEBERRY who died on June 16th in Santa Ana, Mark LANE who died on June 17th in Huntington Beach, Richard VILLAREAL who died on June 17th in Westminster, David TAFOYA who died on June 17th in Tustin, Jose OROZCO, JR. who died on June 17th in Anaheim, Deven WYATT who died on June 17th in Santa Ana, John FRISINA who died on June 18th in Fullerton, Thomas CARRILLO who died on June 18th in Orange, Vincent CORONEL who died on June 19th in Santa Ana, Raul RAMOS who died on June 19th in Buena Park, Gary RUSH who died on June 21st in Fountain Valley, David HAMILTON who died on June 22nd in Westminster, Moises AVALOS who died on June 22nd in Santa Ana, John DOMINGUE who died on June 24th in Los Alamitos, Kelly D’AMBRA who died on June 25th in Orange, Bjarni BRADWELL, JR. who died on June 27th in Costa Mesa, Adalberto VASQUEZ who died on June 29th in Santa Ana, and David SANCHEZ who died on June 30th in Tustin.

In 2019, the last year before COVID-19, thirteen had died in June.  Last year the number of deaths in June was 21.  Since the beginning of the calendar year, 185 people “without fixed abode” in OC.  In 2019, only 98 people died over the same period.   In 2020, the number of people who died over the same period was 151.   So clearly this has not been a good month nor a good year for people who live without a fixed abode in OC.

What to do about this?  Indeed, one of the main stories in OC regarding homelessness in the current month has been the apparent failure of the County to effectively reach out to its homeless community with regards to the COVID-19 vaccine.  The usual excuses were given – that the homeless community is “service resistant” and of course scattered.   Yet following said criticism OCHA apparently did bring out a mobile clinic to Anaheim’s La Palma Park, and vaccinated about a dozen people there

This is not an effective approach at all.   Outreach workers making their rounds sometimes simply calling out from their cars “Do you want services?” (I’ve literally seen this with my own eyes) are going to be ignored by the homeless population.  Why?  Because the outreach workers generally don’t have any meaningful services to give.  Most of those on the streets already know that any discussion however long or short with the outreach worker, they will end, at best, by being “put on a list” for future services with little or nothing coming of it.

So to be effective, the outreach worker HAS TO LEAD with the question “Hey folks, do you want to get a Covid-19 Vaccine?” and then immediately offer the people he/she is reaching out to a flyer with SIMPLE meaningful information as to where to get that vaccine.  I offer a simple flier with this information with this article, but ANYONE (homeless or non) reading here can find where one can get a COVID-19 vaccine for free by simply going to the U.S. government website: http://www.vaccines.gov/search.  

When I enter my zip code, I found that there are over 50 locations where one can get the vaccine within a five-mile radius.  So there are plenty of places to go.  One just needs to know where.

But there is also POSITIVE NEWS.  One cannot but applaud County Supervisor Katrina Foley’s initiative to conduct a census and audit in her district as to how things are going with regard to homelessness.  Yes, it is another study, but it has the feel of a “running study” one which will not be sat-on but actually used after it is completed.

Further, one must also be thankful that the County will be receiving some 1033 housing vouchers destined to take as many / more people off the streets and into true housing.  Yes, this is about 4000-5000 vouchers short of what would be needed here in OC and one wonders what will happen next year.  But it is a significant start and _may_ portend more robust voucher approaches in the future. 

I continue to believe that offering vouchers would be one of the fastest ways to reduce the size of the homelessness problem.

By the 2019 PIT count, there were 6860 people experiencing homelessness in OC.   Budgeting a $1000/mo. voucher for every homeless person in OC would come out to $82.3 million/year.  

According to a 2020 Federal Study, there were 161,548 people experiencing homelessness in the State of California.  Budgeting a $1000/mo. voucher for every person experiencing homelessness in California would come out to $1.94 billion/year

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. in 2020.  Budgeting a $1000/mo. voucher for every person experiencing homelessness in the entire country could come out to $6.96 billion/year

These are all “doable” numbers especially since OC has been historically positively anemic in asking the State for money regarding homelessness.   In 2019, San Diego County, with the same population as OC asked and received $125 million from the State.  That’d be more than enough to give every person homeless in OC, that $1000/mo voucher.  Again, this is doable.

That’s the good news.  The more troubling news here includes continued lack of actual movement to get people sleeping on the streets into shelters let alone housing and then harassment of the county’s homeless population by perhaps rouge or radically ideological elements of the police. 

I was honestly surprised that county / local law enforcement appears to have a veto on placement of persons currently sleeping on our streets into shelters/housing through the Coordinated Entry System.  I’ve long suspected this, and there is some logic to it as background checks can help social service providers better understand the actual situations of the people that they are working with. 

Yet, disqualifying people sleeping on the streets from assistance because of previous records or outstanding arrest warrants seems to me wildly counterproductive.   Even when considering the hardest of cases we must ask ourselves: do we really want violent felons sleeping on our streets and in our parks?  Yet disqualifying felons, past / present leaves them there, on our streets and in our parks, for our children to play with.  Honestly, think this through …

Furthermost people who find themselves homeless are not violent felons.  Instead, they progressively collect stacks of citations for trivial violations, which left unpaid produce arrest warrants.  Do we really want people unable to pay fines for “loitering citations” to be condemned then to remain “loitering” on the streets to collect even such citations? 

So police involvement should in our homelessness crisis should really move toward a far more consultative role, and even one that makes clear the obvious: Disqualifying people who are homeless from assistance only keeps them on our streets forever.

Finally, while most of us focusing on homelessness tend to think of the people sleeping under tarps and other improvised structures on our sidewalks or under bridges, during this past year, we’ve certainly learned in Fullerton that a significant number of people who are homeless find themselves living in their vehicles. 

These people of course face their own challenges, above all, still having something – their vehicle – to lose.  A fair number of people who live in their vehicles end up losing those vehicles to impound.  If they are unable to reclaim those vehicles, the vehicles are sold. 

What happens to the money from those sales?  Every year, there are items on local city council agendas involving use of “asset seizure funds.”  (Fullerton City Council Agenda, 7/6/2021 Item #5) It behooves the citizenry to become more aware that at least some of those funds would presumably come from the sale of vehicles impounded from people who were already homeless.

As it is, many/most public officials feel uneasy about “asset seizure funds” (including both of the Fullerton City Council members with whom I talked after the item had come up) which are often seized from people merely accused of crimes not yet convicted.  Please let us not reduce ourselves to stealing from the poorest of the poor.

So there is much to do, but the first step in doing anything is to face the reality that standing still is not an option.  30 people died last month in OC.  One a day, every day.  That’s at a rate more than twice as fast as only two years ago.  This has to stop.

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

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