A Place to Call Home

homelessThe Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the purchase of a building, on Tuesday, to be used as a year round shelter for the county’s homeless. The $3 million dollar purchase is located in a commercial section of Fullerton on State College Boulevard. More than a dozen advocates and opponents spoke before the board to express their support and concern for the project, which will replace the use of the Fullerton Armory.

The new shelter will have police, school, church and social agency presence to assist the homeless who utilize the facility. Supervisor Shawn Nelson, an adamant supporter of the facility, said that wherever a shelter is proposed, the response is the same -not in my backyard. Nelson heads a committee that works on homeless issues and found this particular building through a friend in the business. Yes, that friend is likely to receive some benefit from the purchase via commissions but, as Nelson pointed out, that will be between him and the seller’s broker.

What is important here is the impact a facility like this will have on homeless in the county and, in particular, our town Tustin. We have been blessed with the presence of the Orange County Rescue Mission, headed by former councilmember Jim Palmer. Some years ago, OCRM found a new home on the MCAS Base where it created the Village of Hope. The facility houses the headquarters of the Rescue Mission as well as transitional housing and training operations. In the Tustin 2010-2015 Five Year Consolidated Plan, the city says it does not have a significant population of homeless persons or homeless families with children (we would say that any homeless family living in Tustin is significant) and that those who live here on our streets are assisted on an as-needed basis by “making appropriate referrals to organizations or agencies…”. Those oranizations include the Orange Coast Interfaith, Families Forward and Human Options, none of which are located in Tustin itself. Tustin also tends to lump the homeless issue with domestic violence in its response. The report goes on to say that Tustin does recognize that homelessness is a regional issue.

We agree, of course, and this new facility in Fullerton could help those who want help.

The real significance of the proposed facility is that it will be open year around and, although no numbers have been put out, it is assumed that it will handle a considerably higher number of clients than the armory has in the past. The assumption from an Orange County Register article is that those who use the facility will not necessarilly be kicked out in the early morning as is the practice now at both the Fullerton and the closer Santa Ana Armory. But, is it close enough that it will be utilized by Tustin’s small homeless population?

Certainly, a facility closer to the city would have a better chance. Over the past year, much has been made over the use of the former transportation center in Santa Ana. Discussions for the use of that facility wilted in stiff opposition by the city. John Moorlach, who bristles at the thought of having to view the sea of homeless humanity that inhabits the grounds around the Hall of Administration, championed the use of the transit center, saying it was a safe facility for the local homeless population. Santa Ana officials blew off the proposal and, aside from opening the restroom facilities, have only responded with vague counter-offers to “find” a suitable location for the “homeless problem” in an unnamed building in an industrial area. Again, the NIMBY approach to the issue at hand. To date, other than private charities such as Catholic Worker’s Isaiah House, no other facilities have been proposed to replace or augment the Santa Ana Armory.

Has Tustin done it’s part? Certainly, the Orange County Rescue Mission’s decision to obtain base housing when MCAS Tustin closed was a wise one. They have made excellent use of the property and are a regional center for assisting homeless and at-risk families (we tried, but couldn’t reach Jim Palmer for comment). Many of the homeless that I speak to on our streets tell me they prefer to live on the street although many of them use transitional facilities to clean up and for other services. But, I have to wonder if we couldn’t do just a bit more to help those who live in our community. It would be nice to believe the facility planned for Fullerton is just a start. Perhaps the next one will be a little closer to home.

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