Community activists are criticizing Orange County’s homelessness commission for not suggesting any action — and instead talking largely about rescheduling meetings to be more convenient for themselves – while being made up of people who depend on the county for funding.
The commission cancelled most of their meetings over the last year amid a majority of commissioners failing to show up, which happened again at their July meeting.
The no-shows come as homeless deaths climb to record levels in OC.
At the Commission to End Homelessness’ most recent meeting, commissioners adjusted their meeting schedule and considered changes to their mission bylaws and general areas of interest — but had no sign of recommending actions for how to improve homeless services.
“We just had a discussion about [the] calendar and frequency of meetings,” said commissioner Paul Wyatt at the most recent meeting on Aug. 26. “The purpose of this commission is to advise the Board of Supervisors on what may be done.”
Wyatt said it’s time commissioners recommend some type of action.
“We need to basically bring things to the Board of Supervisors that are actionable … where they could take action on.”
OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who sits on the commission, asked to reschedule meetings to times when commissioners aren’t on vacation. It was his only comment at the meeting.
He asked to move the planned December 15 meeting to earlier in the month so it doesn’t “interfere” with vacations.
“That’s the week before Christmas week, and it’s travel week and holidays,” said Spitzer, who has been absent at many of the commission meetings over the last year.
“And so my only question is: it looks like we’re dark in November, can we move the meeting up earlier in the month in December so it doesn’t interfere with holidays?”
Activists were having none of it.
David Duran said the commissioners were doing nothing to address — or even acknowledge — skyrocketing OC homeless deaths, which he said have jumped from 235 in 2018 to a projected 400 this year, based on coroner data.
“While you communicate amongst yourselves to find out when would be convenient to meet, and … continue to cancel meetings, as you have historically done, more people are dying day by day,” he said at the Aug. 26 meeting.
“I could go on. But if that message doesn’t resonate somehow with the importance of the issue at hand, then anything that I can say or would say would be meaningless. Please have some sense of urgency. And disregard your personal concerns for a little bit, and work to help those who need it the most,” Duran said.
The commission’s chairman, Supervisor Doug Chaffee, acknowledged there’s been a lack of interest in attending the meetings among the commissioners, who are appointed by county supervisors.
“I think the purpose here is to revise, re-engage and better focus on where we need to go, to create enough interest so that we don’t cancel meetings and that people do want to be part of the [commission] body,” Chaffee said.
County staff then presented on a series of “pillars and priorities” on homelessness, with no discussion by commissioners on any actual actions that could be taken.
Resident Steve McNally said there’s a more fundamental problem with the commission’s structure – that community voices are left off and instead it’s stacked with people who rely on the county for their paychecks.
“My concern is — like with a lot of county boards — is you’re conflicted. Once again you’re asking people who have county contracts, get county money to make decisions and establish the framework on making decisions,” he said.
“And for some reason, the community voice, the family voice, the system user — anyone who’s an un-conflicted voice, is not [on the commission].”
A community member offered to serve on the commission, and was met with silence.
“What is the procedure for applying for the vacant member at-large position that’s open? I’m greatly connected to the Asian/Pacific Islander community here in Orange County, and I’d like to apply as a community organization-based member,” said Aarti Kaushal Chopra.
No commissioners had anything to say in response.
Chaffee then adjourned the meeting, announcing the next one would be held two months later.
Even hearing the conference-call meeting was a challenge, with the commission putting inaccurate Zoom call-in info in their public agenda, and not correcting it until a few minutes after the meeting started – causing several members of the public to miss the first part of the meeting.
“If we want to have public participation, we need to have accurate information be sent out. Because it causes confusion, especially for those of us that not as active in government as maybe [the commissioners] that are on this call,” said Santa Ana resident Tim Johnson. “Overall I’m concerned that this commission has not been effective in working with the community,” he added.
“I would encourage you to realize that housing is the cure to this, and not shelter. Just as an emergency room is not the health care that we all look for on the long term basis – although they are needed, but it’s not the long term solution.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.