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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.

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.