In a reversal that’s now set the timeline back for homeless people needing refuge from the rain and cold, federal judge David O. Carter ruled last Friday that a county-sponsored cold weather shelter can proceed in Santa Ana despite city officials’ objections.
It comes after Carter first put the county’s plans on pause the prior week – effectively shelving a shelter operations contract with the Salvation Army, which was ready to host the shelter – in an initial Oct. 17 court order.
His reason? Santa Ana officials put up a fight against the county’s plans.
In the latest Oct. 21 court hearing, Santa Ana officials noted that wealthier cities, namely in South Orange County, had yet to shore up that area’s homeless services void compared to the working-class Latino town up north.
The result has made Santa Ana an unhoused warehouse for the rich, being the seat of county government and jails – and thus where all the relevant social services offices and basic needs assistance centers are.
The city’s hosted county cold weather emergency shelters for years, and previously at the National Guard armory on on 612 E. Warner Ave.
Santa Ana officials’ idea, in protesting the cold weather Salvation Army shelter site, was to get south county to step up. They hoped the most recent hearing on Friday would solidify Carter’s initial decision and bind south county officials to opening a shelter in their area.
Carter agreed at the initial Oct. 17 hearing, demanding they reconvene with south county officials a week later with information on alternative location options for the seasonal shelter.
But the dispute reared its head at one of the most critical times for people out on the streets: Winter.
And with the rains and cold already beginning to hit, the county had an agreement with the Salvation Army ready to go.
And time was running out.
Carter’s now settled on Santa Ana.
Things are back to where they were a week ago.
Only now, the county currently has no provider to operate its cold weather shelter program, which has since adjusted its location to operate at the National Guard armory.
The Salvation Army’s no longer interested in the shelter and the group’s now out of the mix.
“It was clear that there were still some things that needed to be worked through with the county and City of Santa Ana, and we wanted to make sure they both had time,” said Salvation Army Major Nesan Kistan during a Tuesday phone interview.
Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento had tough words for the judge in a news release following Carter’s ruling.
“Although I have tremendous respect for the Court, the drastic reversal by Judge Carter to allow the County of Orange to force yet another homeless shelter on the people of Santa Ana is a slap in the face of our community,” said Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento in a news release the city sent out following the ruling.
“The City and people of Santa Ana shouldn’t have to take on this responsibility and the impacts to our streets, neighborhoods and businesses time and again, while more affluent cities do nothing,” Sarmiento said.
Asked why the Salvation Army still wasn’t interested despite Carter’s go-ahead, Kistan said the organization has “strict criteria” in terms of serving people with “dignity and care” and thus “didn’t feel we could do that in the location that was being suggested.”
That means the county will have to find another operator, put together another contract and hold another public meeting to approve it.
Santa Ana’s quality of life “shouldn’t be dependent upon the county’s failures and that of other service planning areas like the south,” said Brooke Weitzmann, a high-profile attorney for homeless and disabled people who opposed Santa Ana’s stance against the shelter.
“That said, the practical reality is the county had an arrangement with the Salvation Army to provide this service, a higher level of service than would be in the armory,” Weitzmann said. “And now the Salvation Army is not currently amenable to doing the shelter”
So who’s the county’s next choice?
“The County is reaching out to the provider community for assistance in running the cold weather shelter [at the armory] for the months of December, January, February and March,” said County of Orange spokesperson Molly Nichelson in a Tuesday email.
County officials stated at last week’s court hearing that none of Orange County’s other 33 cities had plans for a walk-in cold weather refuge.