Thirty two people died without fixed abode in Orange County in October. Their names are:
Dariush IRANPOUR who died on October 2nd in Santa Ana
Tony BERES who died on October 2nd in Westminster
Alberto HUIZAR who died on October 2nd in Tustin
Donald MASSEY who died on October 3rd in Fountain Valley
Xavier MOORE who died on October 6th in Santa Ana
Kevin HAGANS who died on October 6th in Mission Viejo
Bradley RINGUETTE who died on October 6th in Fullerton
Tyler ODEGARD who died on October 7th in Anaheim
Gabriel ESPINOZA who died on October 7th in Santa Ana
Brett HIMEL who died on October 7th in Anaheim
Long HUYNH who died on October 7th in Westminster
Richard MATAS who died on October 8th in Fullerton
Duane HAND who died on October 10th in Tustin
Roger GAFFNEY who died on October 12th in Huntington Beach
Rafael LOZADA LOBATO who died on October 14th in Santa Ana
Tyler JUDKINS who died on October 15th in Huntington Beach
Mathew OWEN who died on October 15th in Santa Ana
Robert COLLIER who died on October 15th in Garden Grove
Roy DECAUWER who died on October 17th in Tustin
Julie AVEMARIA who died on October 17th in Fullerton
Laurie VO who died on October 18th in Santa Ana
Tasha WOODS who died on October 19th in Santa Ana
Joleen CRUZ who died on October 20th in Anaheim
Gregory ZIOLKOWSKI who died on October 20th in Mission Viejo
Elizabeth HOCHMUTH who died on October 22nd in Mission Viejo
Robert LIVELY who died on October 23rd in La Habra
Matthew GAUCI who died on October 24th in Huntington Beach
Steven BARTOSH who died on October 26th in Anaheim
Erik THOMPSON who died on October 28th in Anaheim
Sisto ARMENTA who died on October 28th in Anaheim
Julius CORNELIUS who died on October 30th in Newport Beach
Daniel WELSH who died on October 31st in Laguna Niguel
October tends to be a “Goldilocks” month for those sleeping on our streets, neither too hot nor too cold. (The nights have gotten substantially colder since the end of October). Yet, even though 32 deaths seems low compared to previous months including 51 in September, last year the October homeless death count was 27.
All told, 432 people “without fixed abode” have already died in the County this year, with two months to go. Last year the death toll at this point in the year was 398. This is a 8.5% increase for the year over last. If things do not change, and presently there is particular no reason to believe that they will, then 532 people “without fixed abode will have died in the County by the end of the year an equivalent of 9.3% of the County’s homeless population (counted to be 5718 in the last PIT Count conducted in January 2022).
As distressing as these statistics may be, they play out in very human and often very sad ways on the ground and it has been a rather busy month in my corner of the county at St. Philip Benizi in Fullerton.
FIRST THE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTY NEED TO KNOW that we have a real problem now in the County, or at least the northern part of the County, with finding shelter space for women.
We’ve had a woman in her thirties sleeping on and off on our campus since the summer. She’s tried to be discreet, but with the shortening days and lengthening nights, it had proven increasingly hard for her to “hover” somewhere until the campus was largely closed for the night.
So after misjudging the time, and trying to set herself up for the night by some shrubbery at the entrance of our church, she became an inadvertent greeter to our campus for our confirmation parents as they came to pick-up their teens at the end of class.
I wish to say here that NO ONE complained to us at least at the church. Nevertheless, the incident became an opportunity the next morning to ask the woman if she’d really like to find something better than sleeping behind some shrubs each night. Her response was: “OF COURSE I would.”
I asked if she minded that when I called the local Hope Center that they would probably come with a police escort. She said that she did not mind.
Okay, I called the Hope Center. And within 15 minutes they were there with the Hope Center’s van and, yes, two officers from Fullerton’s PD’s Homeless Liaison Unit.
The outreach workers were going to begin their interview of our guest as generally these interviews are done, outside everybody standing. I asked if we could take things indoors to one of our classrooms, so that everyone could sit down, and we did.
All was nice, cordial, but ended with this problem: Though it was 9:45 AM, we were told that it was too late to get our guest into any shelter because all the beds for women were already full.
“At 9:45 AM?” I asked, “Yes.”
“Okay we’re saying then that at 9:45 AM, all of us here know that this woman is going to be sleeping on the street again this evening.”
“Yes, unfortunately that is the case.”
“So when should we call?”
“Probably when we open, at 7 AM.”
So that’s what we did. We called at 7 AM. The Hope Center opened at 7:30 AM. Our guest was completely packed at 7:15 AM with her little suitcase ready to go. The outreach workers, two young women came, this time with no police escort, but came with the news, “Sorry we already know that nothing is available at Placentia and Buena Park. Fullerton’s Navigation center doesn’t open until 9 AM, but we don’t expect it to have anything available either, but we’ll let you know.” And nothing was available there, though later I was told later that there may have been. But by that time, connections were crossed. And our guest remained on the street again.
We had however gotten some helpful information the previous day from one of the HLO officers. He suggested calling domestic violence shelters, as the woman in question was on the street in good part because of a previous history of domestic violence.
So after trying the regular shelter path one more time without success, and after asking ahead of time a OC outreach workers’ group for a list of phone numbers, we tried calling the domestic violence shelters.
THIS IS WHAT READERS SHOULD KNOW HERE:
We called 10 numbers both in O.C. and LA County. Seven of those numbers proved to be simply Domestic Violence hotlines, some referring us back to other Domestic Violence hotlines and at the end of the process, all three of the actual shelters were once again full.
I do think that it is a legitimate question to ask: HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? How is it possible that a woman today, legitimately a domestic violence victim, would be told, repeatedly, that “unfortunately there is no place for you?”
There would seem to be two responses that one could take, and I believe that both are in order:
(1) Clearly more money needs to be spent here so that women requesting shelter actually get it, and
(2) there really needs to be an investigation into how DV funding has been spent. I just find it incredible that there really was no place for this woman to go. How is that possible in this country, in our part of the country, today? One suspects that even, take your pick, “Alabama” or “Newark, NJ” would have had a DV shelter bed for her, but apparently NOT here in OC / SoCal.
The SECOND STORY (and I’d have others, again it was a busy month…) that I do want to share is truly an awful one and one that just played out a few days ago in the surprising rain that we got this past Wednesday.
The rain came as a surprise for everyone, but of course, while it was an annoyance for most of us, for those living in the precarity of homelessness it’s a whole different ball game.
At 6:30 PM that evening, I got a call from the mother of a family that three congregations from Fullerton had helped over a year ago. They were in a hotel, at the other end of the county, their credit card hadn’t gone through, and, well, it was … raining.
So I went out there, talked to / caught up with that family, still more or less struggling, but between odd jobs that she’s had and her partner’s disability, they had been able to keep a roof over their heads, more or less…, but now, in the rain, they once again … had no place to turn.
So who can leave a family in the rain?
Yet this incident exposes immediate problems for County and the whole region. There is no place for families like this to go. They had to beg previous acquaintances for help.
So now imagine both:
- If our 911 system operated in the same way? “Oh, your house is on fire, but you are SOL, because we don’t have even the beginnings of the infrastructure needed to help you.” Or, “Darn, your uncle had a heart attack in the afternoon. If he had it at 7 AM, we could have helped you, maybe. But listen we have a pretty good list of YouTube videos about CPR that you can look-up on the internet that might help you keep him alive until tomorrow when you can try again.”
- What if our homeless assistance services worked the way 911 works today? “Hello, so you are a family that finds itself homeless. We’re sorry to hear that. Now we don’t have a place for you immediately, but because we value children, grandmothers, disabled people, we’re not going to leave you on the street. Here is a list of hotels that will take you. Just give them this scan card that we’re giving you. Mind you, we will have an outreach worker that will come to see you in the next few days, he/she will call in advance. There will be a lot of forms to fill out initially. We will both help you and expect you to do so. If we come to believe that you’re not taking the process seriously, for the sake of your kids, we will take them away. But we all know that it is best for everyone that you have a roof over your head and your kids are with you.” Similarly, with DV shelter space: “We’re sorry that for some reason our spaces are full, but here is a similar scan card for a hotel. We’ll call you when something is available. But no, you won’t have to fend for yourself on the street while you wait.”
Option 2 is possible folks. Imagine if there was no fire department or no emergency medical services. What I’m talking about here is emergency housing services. Truly everyone would benefit from this.
And there would be no more tales of mothers with little kids and disabled husbands needing to sleep in broken-down pickup trucks in the rain anymore. We will have gone beyond to something better than that …
Fr. Dennis Kriz, OSM, Pastor St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Fullerton.
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