Housing is a Human Right OC (HHROC) reviewed the Orange County Grand Jury’s recently released report, “How is Orange County Addressing Homelessness?,” with great interest. Unfortunately, we found that the report’s analysis and recommendations are so flawed that we were moved to send a letter of concern to the OC Grand Jury for their serious review and consideration.
We note that the Grand Jury correctly identifies the county’s shortage of permanent affordable housing to end houselessness. However, its recommendations focus on additional shelters and forced treatment. These recommendations are foolhardy. Orange County has one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation and suffers from a crippling shortage of subsidized affordable housing to meet the needs of those who cannot afford skyrocketing rent. Many residents wait for years or even decades on lists for housing subsidies, and some, inevitably, become displaced. Orange County desperately needs more subsidized affordable housing. The last thing it needs is a band-aid expansion of the shelter system and more court ordered treatment—neither of which will solve the housing affordability crisis in Orange County or end houselessness.
As the Grand Jury correctly noted, the OC Continuum of Care and Board of Supervisors already prioritize shelter funding over funding for housing. As a result, the county has far more shelter spots than permanent supportive housing and affordable housing spots (which have a very low vacancy rate). This imbalance exacerbates the bottleneck for shelter residents, who can expect to be stuck in shelter environments for several years. Should the county follow the Grand Jury’s recommendation to focus on shelter expansion, the bottleneck will only get worse.
Instead of throwing good taxpayer money after bad, the county should take action to invest in what works. And the evidence is clear: Housing First works. This model, which has been the federal government’s official strategy since the aughts, entails providing safe, subsidized affordable housing and voluntary services as an immediate response to people’s needs. Given the opportunity to live independently under the Housing First approach, people remain stably housed, while those in shelters and temporary programs move between programs, treatment facilities, psychiatric facilities, prisons, and jails.
The Grand Jury also recommends that Orange County establish a court-ordered mental health and substance use treatment program. Here again, the data is clear: the most recent comprehensive review of the research finds no evidence that court-ordered treatment works as well as or better than high-quality, community-based voluntary treatment. The problem is not that people require forced treatment. Rather, the problem is that effective voluntary treatment is under-resourced and often unavailable.
As such, court-ordered treatment is both ineffective and unethical. It needlessly strips people of their right to informed consent to treatment, bodily autonomy, and self-determination. It hauls them into a stressful and contentious court system that may, ironically, result in the deterioration of mental health and avoidance of the healthcare system altogether. It harkens back to a dark time in our history when people with disabilities had few rights and were commonly subjected to forced institutionalization and treatment. Finally, it is unnecessary for those with the most acute illnesses: under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, the state already steps in to provide for the immediate health and safety of the most at-risk and gravely disabled people.
The county’s housing affordability and houselessness crisis are solvable—but not if the county follows the Grand Jury recommendations.
HHROC’s letter of concern asks that the Grand Jury strike the recommendations for expanded shelter capacity and court-ordered treatment. The Grand Jury should also request that the county strive to house 100% of unhoused residents using a housing first model. The county can achieve this goal by allocating sufficient discretionary funds to safe, permanent, affordable, and supportive housing along with voluntary treatment on demand. The county should also place a measure on the ballot in 2024 for a housing bond, which is needed to fund the housing first model.
David Duran, Co-Founder, Housing is a Human Right OC
Housing is a Human Right OC – Public Education & Outreach Committee:
Kayla Asato, HHROC Volunteer, Orange
Pat Davis, HHROC Co-Founder & Volunteer, Anaheim
Dave Duran, HHROC Co-Founder & Volunteer, Anaheim
Fr. Dennis Kriz, HHROC Volunteer, Fullerton
Eve Garrow, HHROC Co-Founder & Volunteer, Riverside
Karen G. Hernández, HHROC Volunteer, La Habra
Maura Mikulec, HHROC Volunteer, Capistrano Beach
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