Amidst record-breaking homeless deaths and a cold weather shelter debacle that prompted a dispatch of street medics this year, an 85-bed referral-only shelter is coming to Garden Grove.

The shelter has been dubbed the Central Cities Navigation Center, and it will serve the central Orange County cities of Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Westminster, which combined counted a total homeless population of at least 588 people in the 2022 Point-in-Time survey

At their regular Tuesday meeting, Garden Grove City Council members unanimously approved the new shelter’s operator, Volunteers of America Los Angeles, a non-profit founded in 1896 – one of Southern California’s oldest and largest. 

In doing so, city council members approved a $5.2 million agreement with the nonprofit for an initial two-year term, with the option of extending for up to three more years, with funding for the agreement coming in from each of the three cities as well as the County of Orange.

“From 2017 … all the way until now, it’s amazing to see how far as a city we have come as far as prioritizing our unhoused population, prioritizing mental health and substance abuse (issues),” said City Council Member Kim Nguyen during the meeting.

“I have family who I really care about who have been unhoused, who have had to deal with substance issues and mental health,” Nguyen said. “There is just not enough of a safety net in resources and opportunities for these individuals to thrive.”

Earlier this month, the city rolled out a $4 million street medicine program in partnership with CalOptima, the county’s publicly-funded health care plan for the poor, as well as the unhoused healthcare group Healthcare in Action, which will drive out to CalOptima members who live on the streets and under freeways. 

[Read: Trench Foot & Infections: Street Medics Treating Homeless People Brace for Storm Aftermath]

Street medics came to the forefront in Orange County this year, called to service after a cold weather shelter debacle that delayed the county’s opening of an emergency rain season refuge by months, leaving people vulnerable to hypothermia and other weather-related ailments.

City Councilmember Cindy Tran hailed both the street medic team and shelter before the vote as two welcome signs that people in Garden Grove “will get taken care of.”  

“And have a place to stay.”

Other council members said the shelter would enable them to more easily penalize those who sleep in public spaces. 

“We’re well on our way to meeting our threshold for the Boise decision,” said City Councilmember George Breitigam, referencing a court decision that barred cities from enforcing anti-camping laws if their homeless population outsized its shelter bed availability. “It puts us in a big leap forward for that.”

Officials also approved a contract with Thomco Construction Inc. for the shelter’s actual development. 

With Thomco submitting the lowest construction bid, city staff have clocked the total cost of the agreement at around $4.2 million.

In Los Angeles County, Volunteers of America oversees a total of 2,800 beds and, on an annual basis, around 13,5000 unhoused people through more than 90 programs and shelters in Los Angeles, Pomona, La Puente, and Hacienda Heights. 

It comes after Garden Grove City Council members voted to acquire and rehabilitate a 9,653 square-foot building on 13871 West Street, which is now expected to provide up to 85 people with the following services, according to city staff: 

  • 1-on-1 case management
  • Mental health and stabilization services/resources 
  • Substance use counseling 
  • Outpatient health services 
  • Education services 
  • Employment assistance and job training 
  • Life skills development 
  • Transportation.

“We have residents complain that they have homeless people in alleyways defecating on the streets, wielding weapons … we have a responsibility to them to keep them safe and keep our neighborhoods looking great,” said Nguyen before the vote. “But we can’t forget that these individuals, they’ve been on the street for 5, 10,15, 20 years-plus.”

Some of them “have served our country,” Nguyen said. “And something happened in their life that got them to this point, and it’s going to take more than one day, one interaction with an officer or mental health provider to undo that.”

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