St Philip Benizi's SVdP Society's food pantry. About 20% of those helped each week remain homeless. Credit: Fr. Dennis Kriz

In December 2021 another 35 people died “without fixed abode” in Orange County.  Their names are:

Steven RICHTER who died on Dec 1st  in Santa Ana

Timothy REEVE who died on Dec 2nd in Costa Mesa

Donald SURPRENANT who died on Dec 2nd in Santa Ana

Doanh PHAM who died on Dec 3rd in Santa Ana

Daniel PALACIOS who died on Dec 3rd in Fullerton

Ralph MCCANN III who died on Dec 3rd in Orange

Matthew BENESI who died on Dec 4th in Lake Forest

William HERNANDEZ who died on Dec 5th in Santa Ana

Tyler CUNNINGHAM who died on Dec 6th in Anaheim

William NIBEEL JR. who died on Dec 7th in Orange

Elsa JAMES who died on Dec 7th in Fullerton

Michael CHARITY who died on Dec 7th in Cypress

Jaime MENDOZA who died on Dec 10th in Fullerton

Brian CROSBY who died on Dec 11th in Santa Ana

Robby ROOK who died on Dec 11th in Placentia

Patrick METLER who died on Dec 11th in Garden Grove

Jacinto ROMERO-BARRERA who died on Dec 11th in San Juan Capistrano

Temple CRABBE who died on Dec 11th in Santa Ana

Robert PROPHET who died on Dec 12th in Mission Viejo

Gregg RADER who died on Dec 12th in Anaheim

Bradley MONTGOMERY who died on Dec 15th in Costa Mesa

Andrea CASTRO who died on Dec 15th in Santa Ana

Giancarlos REYESJOVEL who died on Dec 19th in Santa Ana

Matthew KINDRED who died on Dec 19th in Stanton

Dennis SOMMERS who died on Dec 20th in Huntington Beach

Lan JONES who died on Dec 22nd in Laguna Niguel

Tasha KELLY who died on Dec 23rd in Anaheim

Bianca COPELAND who died on Dec 23rd in Fullerton

Salvador CARDENAS who died on Dec 24th in Anaheim

Brian AUGUSTINE who died on Dec 26th in Anaheim

Eric STIPE who died on Dec 26th in Orange

Todd GOSSON who died on Dec 29th in Tustin

Harold RUTLEDGE who died on Dec 29th in Anaheim

Michael GREENWOOD who died on Dec 30th in Fullerton

Leonard GUILLEN JR who died on Dec 31st in Anaheim

Their deaths bring the total of those who died “without fixed abode” in OC for the calendar year to 381.  In 2020, the total was 325 and in 2019, the last year before COVID-19 the total was 209. 

In the lead-up to Homeless Memorial Day, Dec 21st, both the OC Register and the OC edition of the LA Times ran articles on the record death toll, and both made note that about 2/3 of those who died “without fixed abode” died apparently of drug overdoses, which inevitably serves to suggest that these people’s deaths were at least in part “their own fault.”

My purpose here, beyond reminding everyone that drug use is at least as much (and probably much more) an effect of being reduced to sleeping on the streets as its cause, is to reiterate that it truly benefits no one to keep people sleeping on the streets.  Those who are reduced to such an existence may pay the ultimate price, but we are all both impoverished and the quality of all of our lives is diminished by keeping people sleeping on our streets.

First, let us finally come to appreciate that the simultaneous boredom (being reduced to sitting around, all day, every day protecting one’s remaining stuff from being stolen) and stress (knowing that at any moment someone, almost anyone, could come by and demand that one pick-up one’s remaining stuff and go somewhere, anywhere, where else) is virtually a prescription for drug abuse.  If one isn’t self-medicating when one first comes to live on the street, then one will be sucked into that reality eventually.  And yes, heroin becomes probably the cheapest way to go… “it’s a lot cheaper than Bourbon” …

But second, while anti-public intoxication laws could be enforced in California / anywhere, if we wanted to, we don’t enforce them because, at the end of the day, we continue to have no places for people to go after they dry out.

The solution here is really to follow the wisdom of the 2018 Boise Decision: Just provide people with a place to go (and by extension for those who still have vehicles a place to park).   

If one doesn’t have places for these people to go, then taking them away somewhere to dry out makes no sense, because, at the end of the day, these people will just be dumped onto the street again in the same situation that they were in when they were found drunk, passed out or high.

If we choose not to recognize that so long as someone is alive, one has a right to exist, somewhere, then this problem will continue … forever.

So rather than look for excuses to do nothing (and then complain about “all these homeless people everywhere”) let’s just make the New Year’s resolution that come January of next year, this problem would be resolved, that NO ONE in this County would have no place to go. 

It’s doable, it’s morally doable, and yes, even the ACLU could be onboard (for instance, the U.N. has run effective refugee camps for the whole of its 80 years of existence, with all the various human rights organizations both monitoring the refugee camps and on board with them).   Homelessness remains a solvable problem.  So let’s solve it rather than just complain.

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

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