How many people does 51 equal? Ten full OC Boards of Supervisors and one County Sheriff

A record 51 people living “without fixed abode” died in OC in July, their names are:

Ruben MARTINEZ who died on July 1st in Santa Ana

Christopher CLARK who died on July 1st in Brea

Christian SANCHEZ who died on July 2nd in Westminster

Stephanie HUTCHINGS who died on July 2nd in Anaheim

John ROSENBERGER who died on July 2nd in Stanton

Charles RHOADES JR who died on July 3rd in Anaheim

Hilda BODIFORD who died on July 3rd in Garden Grove

Takehiro KATO who died on July 3rd in Huntington Beach

Michael GARCIA who died on July 5th in Anaheim

Gary GARRETT who died on July 5th in Costa Mesa

Martin RIBOTA who died on July 5th in Santa Ana

Gregory COLEMAN who died on July 6th in Westminster

Darlene BEALS who died on July 6th in Anaheim

Ana MARTINEZPICHARDO who died on July 6th in Anaheim

Pedro ESCOBAR who died on July 6th in Santa Ana

Gerardo PEREZ-SANCHEZ who died on July 7th in Garden Grove

Robert ROMERO who died on July 8th in Stanton

Amber DONAHUE who died on July 9th in Westminster

Brandon SALINAS who died on July 9th in Orange

Juan AGUIRRE-CLEMENTE who died on July 9th in San Juan Capistrano

Antonio VEGA who died on July 9th in Orange

Jovani FLORES who died on July 10th in Newport Beach

Matthew RULE who died on July 11th in Santa Ana

Antonio GOMEZ who died on July 11th in Anaheim

Thomas FOX who died on July 11th in Newport Beach

Ricardo BERNAL who died on July 11th in Newport Beach

Michael MILKINTAS who died on July 12th in Orange

Robert EAST who died on July 13th in Orange

Nicholas NICKS who died on July 14th in Garden Grove

Balmore BARRIENTOS who died on July 14th in Buena Park

Scott ARMSTRONG who died on July 16th in Laguna Hills

Spencer ALLEN who died on July 18th in Laguna Niguel

Luis LOPEZ who died on July 18th in Santa Ana

Luis RAMIREZ MAYORGA who died on July 18th in Westminster

James HUNSINGER who died on July 19th in Garden Grove

Jason SUESS who died on July 19th in Anaheim

Ronald HOPKINS who died on July 20th in Irvine

Lawrence MCAULIFFE who died on July 21st in Santa Ana

Deborah SALTZEN who died on July 21st in Anaheim

Gary TRIPE who died on July 23rd in Orange

Ricardo SOLORZANO who died on July 24th in Stanton

George OBRIEN who died on July 24th in Newport Beach

Branden PAREDES who died on July 25th in Buena Park

Alexander TRAINOR who died on July 25th in Costa Mesa

Edward GONZALES who died on July 26th in Fullerton

Pablo CRUZ who died on July 28th in Anaheim

Yvonne RIVERA who died on July 28th in Anaheim

Guillermo MARTINEZ who died on July 29th in Placentia

Douglas RICKS who died on July 31st in Laguna Beach

Alberto VILLALOBOS who died on July 31st in San Juan Capistrano

Juan SANDOVAL who died on July 31st in Orange

The 51 person death count among those people “without fixed abode” shatters the previous one-month record of 46 deaths set in January and February of this year by 10 percent.  

At the current rate of death, this year’s total could exceed last year’s then record 381 deaths by the end of September, with three months, a full quarter of the year, to go.

At the beginning of the year, OC Sheriff Barnes announced that he was going to convene a panel to study the reasons why the death rate among those people who find themselves homeless is increasing.  However, while I have heard that the commission has met, as of my writing here, there has been nothing published about its deliberations.

Yet we can see that unless the trends change, and presently there is no reason at all to believe that they will, this year’s death toll will exceed last year’s by 25% and somewhere between 8-10% of OC’s beginning of the year homeless population will be dead by year’s end.

And this my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg in this morass of horrors.   

Trying to assist a wave of families, often with little kids, finding themselves homeless, I ran into a brick wall.  I was told by the people running the County’s 211 and HMIS system that there was nothing that they could do to speed up the process of getting families with little kids off of the streets, that even the application process to get on the list to get assistance would necessarily take several days, and then, of course, they would only be put on the list to await assistance. 

Await where?  For many, outside, in one’s car. 

Now to this one must make absolutely clear that there is no place in the County where these people can legally park overnight — that was last year’s battle, and honestly the smirks on the public officials that we dealt with last year, as they giddily explained to us why nothing, nowhere was possible still haunts me.

How about a section of the Big-A’s enormous parking lots (well it’s in the process of being sold).  How about a part of the former massive El Toro Base (It’s being turned into a park).  How about some sections of the county’s parking lots at the beaches (Are you insane? No, we’re just looking for places for people to legally park when they have no other recourse).  How about some section of the open roads in Santiago / Silverado Canyon among the bears and mountain lions.? There’s even a huge RV storage park there, but it’s only for the RVs, not for any people.  Who knows that might be the solution. 

But presently there is no place anywhere in this County where one could park if one has no place to sleep.

Then there’s the whole nightmare of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and Coordinated Entry System (CES). 

In order to get assistance in this County, a person finding him or herself homeless has to come to an HMIS “access point” to be entered into the system(s).    

The process is not straightforward.  To begin with, as already noted above, to get entered into the HMIS / CES is a two-step process involving an initial contact where basic information is taken and then a second more in-depth interview generally done some days later.    

That second interview is in good part a survey of finding reasons why not to help a person: Is there anybody at all who can help you, a brother, a sister, a friend, or are you basically … friendless?  Are you by chance from out of the County or, better, out of the State?  Here we could certainly get you the bus fare to get you out of here.  Are there any pets or perhaps a medical condition that would make it harder for us to help you?  At the end of a veritable gauntlet, one is put on a list to await assistance.  Again, await where?  

Further, after going through an interview like that, it really would be good to at least get some sort of a certificate, card or receipt, saying that one has in fact been registered in the system and for how long.

I’ve encountered all kinds of people who sincerely believed that they were registered in the system who found either that they never were, or their time in the system had expired. 

Having a card would be a good reminder to the person that they need to keep in touch with the good people of the County’s HMIS system to make sure that their registration in the system won’t expire.  And even if confidentiality would prevent us who are outside this system, but having to deal with people who should be being served by it, from directly checking whether one or another person coming to us is actually in the system or not, we could then ask the person for his/her HMIS/CES card, or if the person lost said card, ask the person to go back to one of the access points to get a new card or receipt indicating that they were in the system. 

Right now I often accompany people who come to us for assistance to the HMIS/CES access points because it helps our Parish (and the larger Interfaith Community here in Fullerton) get a better idea of how we can help the person. 

If the person is already in the HMIS/CES system then we have some hope that helping the person with a short time in a hotel room would be worth it.  If however, we find that they aren’t yet in the system at all, or need to be reentered into the system, we get a better sense of the challenges before us.

But top to bottom there is so much that needs to be done. 

And when I do feel paralyzed by the obvious and daunting challenges that lie before us, I think of that three-year-old girl chasing butterflies while her mother and I were being told by a kind and thoroughly sincere outreach worker that it would be up to 10 days before the mother could get even an interview to get into the HMIS / CES system to begin to hope to get assistance and I cry out to myself: “No!  I can’t let this stand!  I can’t walk away from this.”  That three-year-old’s face will otherwise haunt me forever.  

And then there are the 51 people among OC’s homeless who died last month, 287 for the year, so far.  That’s a lot of death in one of the richest places on earth.   

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

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