Amid the rain and cold weather, Fullerton and Orange County officials are considering opening a temporary shelter for homeless people at Independence Park – but that shelter won’t allow any walk-ins.
Fullerton City Council members at their Tuesday meeting voted unanimously to allow the city manager to negotiate with the county officials on opening a temporary shelter for about two months at the gymnasium at Independence park.
Resident Jane Rands called into the meeting on Zoom in support of the idea and questioned why the shelter would not permit walk-ins as was allowed in the past.
“I would like to understand why there’s not an opportunity for walk-ins,” she asked. “I’d like to better understand why that’s not an option or ask if we could consider that.”
But Rands’ question was never answered at the meeting by city staff or council members.
National Guard leaders confirmed to Voice of OC in December that they are not currently operating any cold weather shelters in either Santa Ana or Fullerton, as in years past – even as homeless people are dying at record levels.
Those shelters typically allowed people to simply walk up and get a bed – something advocates for homeless people say is sorely needed in Orange County.
The city usually opens a temporary shelter from October to March at the Fullerton Armory.
In the past, the city leased the park gymnasium to the county during the start of the pandemic to open a temporary shelter after a state emergency was declared and the national guard was activated leaving the armory unavailable for use, according to a city staff report.
“The armory was hardly the gold standard for what’s successful in a cold weather shelter. We have to do better than that. I think we can all recognize where the holes in the dam were. There were many,” Mayor Fred Jung said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Jung called for a medical triage facility to be set up at the shelter as well as other services be provided.
“We are duty bound as a society to protect those that are along the margins and getting people out of the cold out of the rain is the least that we can do,” he said.
If approved, the shelter is expected to open on Feb. 1 and remain open until sometime between the end of March and the end of April depending on the need, according to a city staff report.
Councilwoman Shana Charles questioned if the opening date could be moved up.
“The concern is that we’re already at 40 degrees every night,” Charles said, pointing to her phone and adding that the weather was not expected to warm up in the next 10 days.
She called for a more organized process around setting up the shelter next year if there was support for the winter shelter becoming more “long term.”
Police Chief Robert Dunn, who sits on the county’s commission to end homelessness, said that the county needs time to set up contracts and that the proposal still has to go before the OC Board of Supervisors for a vote before the shelter can open.
“They have been trying to get an operator to operate a cold winter weather shelter through a (request for proposal) process since last June, they did not have any respondents apply to run a shelter,” Dunn said.
“They tried in another city, there was a threat of litigation and so they had to go back to the drawing board and so that’s how we arrived at this current timeline, unfortunately.”
In October, U.S. District Judge David Carter approved a shelter for Santa Ana, telling county officials they could use the National Guard armory. The Salvation Army was also lined up to operate the shelter.
But officials in Santa Ana, who feel wealthier cities in the county are not doing their part to address homelessness, threatened to sue the county and the Salvation Army backed away.
Now with the proposal to reopen a temporary shelter at Independence Park, city staff expects the county will be responsible for the cost of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) operating the shelter.
The county would also be responsible for providing extra security and repairing any damage.
And while the agreement is not finalized, staff anticipates the city getting $7,500 per month in rent.
The temporary shelter, if approved, is expected to serve mainly Fullerton’s homeless population and unhoused folks in North County from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Councilman Ahmad Zahra said he liked the idea of a long-term winter shelter.
“But that is something that we also need to talk to our surrounding cities, and neighbors and look at adequate areas that that can host something like this,” he said.
Zahra also acknowledged that shelters are a short term solution.
“We need to start looking at long term solutions and that is really low income housing and supportive housing and also mental health and other services,” he said.
“For now I think we do have an obligation to provide for our unhoused.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.