How clean are those mats back there?EXPAND
How clean are those mats back there?
Denise de la Cruz

From Unsanitary Conditions to Security Issues, OC's New Homeless Shelter Needs Work

After a month, the Courtyard in Santa Ana—a former bus terminal in DTSA that's Orange County's latest effort in combatting homelessness, and the city's first transitional sanctuary—has helped feed and shelter hundreds of homeless people, but not without experiencing some growing pains.

Miguel Hurtado, a retired occupant who holds a master's degree and has three daughters currently enrolled at OCC, says the Courtyard is being wrongly publicized as a 24-hour-shelter. A few weeks back, one of Hurtado's daughters slept on a bus bench after missing the gate's closing time of 10 p.m. Hurtado says his daughter told him, "Dad, I came, I screamed, 'Open the gate!' Nobody came."

Since the incident, Candace Shultz of the Midnight Mission (the organization in charge of managing the Courtyard) said the issue has been "rectified," explaining the gate is closed at night for safety purposes. Doris Starling, who oversees the Courtyard's operations, says a list of occupants who work or go to school late is now kept with volunteers who manage the gate.

Confusion about the shelter's hours isn't the only issue to arise in the Courtyard's first month. Hurtado along with several other occupants claim conditions in the Courtyard are unsanitary. "There's a lot of deception going on." says an occupant named Gregory, who declined to share his last name. "They don't clean the mats....they don't clean them at all." Another occupant named Adrian Gomez says she uses her "personal Lysol to kill the germs on the mats."

Other sanitation complaints included a lack of thorough cleaning procedures. Gregory says surfaces are only cleaned twice a week by a jet stream of water. Maggots were recently spotted on the cracks of the brick floors, according to Cheryl Bates and Nicholas Rivera, current Courtyard residents. Pets are welcomed into the shelter because of the companionship they provide to their owners, but some residents like Gregory feel that the presence of such animals contributes to sanitation issues.

"At night when you go to the restroom, there's no toilet paper," said one man, who added that in order to wipe himself after using the restroom one night, he was reduced to using "somebody's socks."

Starling was quick to note that budget limits and occupants stealing rolls of toilet paper left her with the tough decision to ration the Courtyard's limited supply, "I ran through a case of toilet paper on the first day," Starling told the Weekly. Nevertheless, a complaint to the Courtyard was filed on November 1st by the Catholic Worker's Dwight Smith after "mats were soiled with human faeces. [sic]" Starling denies any mat neglect and said volunteers wipe down the mats every other day with disinfectants.

This is Lucky, one of the Courtyard's cutest occupants.EXPAND
This is Lucky, one of the Courtyard's cutest occupants.
Denise de la Cruz

Aside from sanitation complaints, another issue for residents is security. Currently, the only requirement to enter the Courtyard is a signature. Starling acknowledged the security issue by saying her resources were limited, and that volunteers guard the shelter 24-7 and kick out anyone using drugs. "Should I have a stop and frisk operation?" she asked rhetorically.

Santa Ana police are called whenever police presence is needed.EXPAND
Santa Ana police are called whenever police presence is needed.
Denise de la Cruz

Starling said incorrect estimates provided by the County of how many homeless people the Courtyard would accommodate has impacted the shelter's operations. "I'm dealing with a population I didn't expect," she said. Starling added that county officials said the Courtyard would only accommodate about 100 homeless nightly; since the Courtyard's first week of operation, the shelter has welcomed about 300 people each night. "I'm taking in the population that was used and abused across the street [in the Civic Center]. They all made a mad dash over here."

Each Thursday morning, social workers, pro-bono lawyers, and other social organizations set up shop at the Courtyard to assist folks, but Gregory says he wishes job placement programs were available, too. "They seem to focus on just the mentally ill and not the folks like me who need to find a job." he said.  Starling acknowledged that the Courtyard doesn't provide job placement, but said behavioral health services were mostly available because "70 percent" of the Courtyard's occupants are mentally ill. She's working on fixing any issues residents have, but also stressed the Courtyard's accomplishments which include providing around 600 to 750 meals and 100 showers a day. "My job is to make sure these people have a safe space to sleep at night," Starling added.

While conditions in the shelter aren't ideal, some still find the sanctuary a respite from the harsher realities of living on the streets. "The first week that I came here, you would see people that are shot out and just looking absolutely dead," says Rivera. "You see the life coming back into them by taking a shower and being able to do a load of laundry. I've been revived—it was definitely a blessing that I came here."

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