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No Council Meetings For The Homeless

homelessIt’s another one of those 5th Tuesday weeks where there is no city council or planning commission meeting. We were going to bring you another “around the county” article but something over at the Liberal OC caught our eye.

Recently, our good friend Chris Prevatt was involved in a traffic accident and was laid up with a busted wing. He wrote an interesting article about a subject that is near to my heart, homelessness. Specifically, Chris wrote about a recent editorial criticizing Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano for his sponsorship of Assembly Bill 5, now coming to be known as the Homeless Bill of Rights Act.

From Chris’ article:

To their horror, as the Register’s editorial writers see it, the Bill would grant the homeless new rights in California, including sleeping on sidewalks.

The authors of this misguided assault on compassion, assert that “as American citizens, homeless people already benefit from every right in the actual Bill of Rights. But this measure would, for instance, allow them to sleep on sidewalks, in parks and other public spaces and would require that city governments provide them with bathrooms and showers.”

Well it seems to me that the freedom to lay down and rest when one is tired is a basic human right even though it is not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights. If you were to, in daylight hours, lay down a blanket, or mat on a park lawn or bench to take a nap you would not be breaking any laws. Such a violation only occurs when you do so at night. The laws our cities, like Santa Ana, have enacted to discourage the homeless from hanging around, are specifically targeted to prevent homeless people from engaging in a basic right to sleep during the night, The mere act of using a blanket  to keep themselves warm, or a mat to cushion against the hard ground, breaks the law.

Chris goes on to enumerate the issues regarding sleeping in the park (or other places) and the problems that being homeless brings with that. He then asks if not here, where?

It brings to mind the plight of our own homeless here in Tustin. They are a small group who you may occasionally see walking around or sitting in the park. They maintain a low profile around town. Apparently, not low enough for some of our councilmen. In recent years, the Tustin City Council has enacted anti-homeless ordinances that are obviously geared toward driving the homeless out of our city. Like every good city, Tustin has an anti-camping ordinance that prohibits camping in public places. These ordinances are constitutional because they do not discriminate you and I, along with the homeless, cannot camp in the park… as if you and I would. And, recently, the city council passed an ordinance that effectively prohibits panhandling on every street the homeless gain their income from.

Chris points out that Ammiano’s bill does not grant new rights per se. It only guarantees that they be treated like human beings and cut some slack, considering their situation. One thing it would also do is to eliminate the justification of the homeless camping on private property in front of businesses, again, along with the accompanying issues that brings. I would think that alone would bring the Republicans around. Instead, they would be happy to continue to have the police harass the homeless with useless citations that are written for the simple act of trying to live in our community. That is shameful in any book. Ammiano’s bill is far from perfect. With a little consideration, it can go a long way toward establishing some sense of dignity to the less fortunate among us while increasing public safety. And, it won’t cost a whole lot either. So you see, Republicans, there is something for everyone.

What’s Your Point?

homelessBright and early last Saturday morning, about 700 volunteers came out in force for the annual “Point-in-Time” count of Orange County homeless. The exercise is alternated yearly with a count of homeless using the county’s emergency shelters and transitional housing, and is required by HUD in order to receive grant money for aiding the homeless and -hopefully- reducing their ranks.

The Voice of OC ran an article on the count titling it, “What is the Point of the ‘Point-in-Time’ Homeless Count?“. Lamenting the inherent flaws in the system, the article asked, basically, what was the point of making an attempt to count a transient and mostly secretive population. A chief complaint is that the time allowed for the count, four hours this year, is not enough to get an accurate account of the homeless picture. The article also bring up issues of the volunteers approach and methodology, saying it would be impossible to cover the entire county with any accuracy.

The count, which has been conducted every year since 2005, is required to obtain 16 million dollars in Federal funding to reduce homelessness. HUD does not appear to require a threshold number for disseminating funds so total accuracy may be a moot point from the funding perspective. Still, according to the VOC article, the numbers are disputed by homeless advocates, including Dwight Smith of Catholic Worker who is a vocal critic of how the county handles the homeless.

“Bullshit,” was how Dwight Smith, director of Isaiah House, the Catholic Worker shelter in Santa Ana, characterized that count.

However, Smith and others do credit county officials for doing a better job of training volunteers and making other improvements from the early years, when, as Leon describes, “they would just ask a college student to take an area and start counting.”

But the advocates said the count can only improve so much as long as it is done over such a short window of time. To illustrate the inherent flaws in the count, Leon recalled how when he was a public health nurse he witnessed the number of homeless people in Anaheim’s La Palma Park change drastically from one week to the next.

“I might visit one day and there would be 50 people in the park, but go back the next week there would be zero,” he said.

But, I have to wonder if lengthening the timeframe would result in any more accurate count? Although Smith believes the count should last as long as two months, how would that increase accuracy? In order for it to be more accurate, one would have to find some way of tracking individuals and families so they are not counted multiple times. My experience interacting with the homeless demonstrates most are suspicious of anyone exuding authority. Certainly a stranger approaching and asking questions, as the volunteers are required to do, would elicit less than an enthusiastic response from the population they are attempting to interact with. Asking more in-depth questions that would  identify specific individuals, particularly from the mentally ill, would not go over and could produce unexpected results.

During the 2011 count, a total of 6,939 homeless people were counted/estimated in Orange County. The reduction from 2009 estimates was attributed by some to Federal Stimulus dollars and, by others, as poor counting. Still, the county defends its method of counting the homeless as the best available. They also claim it is a learn-as-you-go effort that gets better each year. Smith, who is probably one of the most knowledgeable in the county on the plight of the homeless, agrees. Still, he says, more could be done.

So, this year, the county will make its count using volunteers from all walks of life. Gone are the days when a handful of college students were tasked with the count. Saturday’s effort began a few months ago with the county reaching out to schools and even it’s own employees asking for volunteers. The response was good with many returnees helping out. And as I said, since numbers are not critical, it is the count itself that matters. And, perhaps, that is the point.

The numbers and graphs can be confusing. However, if you would like to see where your tax dollar is going, you can pull reports for California and Orange County specifically from the HUD page found here.

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.

SARAH Feeds the Tustin Homeless

Darth Vader asked me to post this.

SARAH, that’s the Spiritual And Religious Alliance for Hope, sent out their most recent newsletter. There is a blurb about helping out at the Thanksgiving Feast for those less fortunate, Thursday, November 22, 2012, in Peppertree Park. They are, of course, looking for volunteers to help out in two hour shifts between the hours of 8am and 5pm. They promise guest speakers and entertainment. To volunteer for this event, call TyRon Jackson at 714-363-6621. Yes, this is the TyRon of local fame. You may even get to meet him.  For more information on SARAH go here.

TyRon called me to introduce himself and to let me know all about the upcoming Feast. He says this is his fourth year organizing the event and, this year, he wanted to go over the top. So, instead of renting a hall or using Hometown Buffet as he has in the past, he called the city and rented Peppertree Park….. the entire park…… for the entire day. He says he is expecting quite a crowd. And, while volunteers are needed, he really wants to emphasize the “community” of this event.
“No one will be turned away”, says Jackson. “We had a tremendous outpouring of generosity from folks that will allow us to feed everyone.” He wouldn’t say how many he is expecting. But, this is his fourth year organizing this event and I trust the fact that he rented the entire park for this event. He has planned speakers and entertainment, hoping for a great day. “The weather will be perfect,” says Jackson, whose Facebook page says he is a Behavior Intereventionist for TUSD. He is also touted as a singer, actor and all-around good guy. We agree.

Jackson promises that no one will be turned away. While he wants to serve the less fortunate among us, he also wants this to be a day of community and coming together for a common purpose. We can’t volunteer as we will be serving turkey dinner to 15 or so of Orange County’s youngest criminals. But, if you have a few hours to spend volunteering, TyRon could use you. If you  are not up to singing for your dinner, just enjoy the food as, like he says, he has plenty to go around.