This past Saturday morning, a town hall about the homeless crisis in Orange County saw about 100 people pack the county's Board Hearing Room in the Hall of Administration in SanTana. People were eager to ask questions to a panel of county officials, but that didn't happen. Those who sat near the emergency exits were able to get a whiff of the stench of shit from outside—which was an appropriate scent, given the scoops of it that the panel heaped on the public.
The audience consisted of residents, community activists, leaders of organizations, and members of OC's homeless population, all who gave two hours of their Saturday mornings to hear county officials slap themselves on the back about their latest accomplishments in sheltering OC's homeless—and not much else. The session was organized by Supervisor Andrew Do, who unsurprisingly just so happens to be running for reelection in a couple of weeks against SanTana councilmember Michele Martinez. He rounded up a Greek chorus of supporters: the county's homeless czar, Susan Price, Garden Grove Police Captain Travis Whitman, executive director of Mercy House (a nonprofit that will manage the upcoming 200-bed Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim) Larry Haynes, and Mary Hale, the county's director of behavioral health services. Every panelist had a direct connection to Do, either as someone who works for the county, has a contract with the county, or—in the Garden Grove cop's case—draws a check from the city where Do once served as a councilmember.
Do opened by stating that he as a supervisor is limited in his power to combat the homeless issue, going on to point fingers at federal, state and city government for not taking more action. "I want to create at least the parameters, so that we know, that when we talk about issues, we keep track and keep straight who is responsible for what. And who has the power to really get anything done in those areas." (Umm, okay)
"For such a complex issue of homelessness primarily what we're talking about is income and housing," says Price. Supervisor Do later jumped in to say, "The ability to create affordable housing rests ultimately with the city; we can offer help but the zoning power and the permits are granted by the cities."
Price, who will give her 120-day homeless assessment to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, said she already anticipates an increase in the homeless population for this January's bi-annual count, which was 4,452 in 2015. But she expressed that the expected increase shouldn't stop the community and the county's efforts to combat homelessness.
The panel discussed the county's latest accomplishments, such as the upcoming, first county-run, year-round shelter, Kraemer's Place in Anaheim, the Potter's Lane Project in Midway City, new rental assistance programs, new psychological health programs, and the grand opening of the Courtyard, a new transitional shelter in the old bus terminal on Santa Ana Boulevard. The Courtyard opened just 2 weeks ago and, according to Price, had 208 people sleep there the night before the town hall.
Hale offered a hotline (855-OC-LINKS ) for those who encounter an individual in need of psychiatric or substance abuse aide, which was a common topic throughout the forum. The panel also enthusiastically shared that millions in federal and state funds for emergency centers for those suffering psych issues are currently being sought by the county.
However, a recently published report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California criticized OC for relying on "stagnant" federal and state funding to solve its homeless problem without willing to reach into its own pockets. The report titled, "Nowhere To Live: The Homeless Crisis in Orange County & How To End It," was given to Do at the Board of Supervisor's meeting last Tuesday yet was left unmentioned by Do and his panelists.
Empty flashcards were handed out to the audience to jot down questions while a moderator gathered the cards and selected questions to ask the panelists, the better to weed out actual critics. Most inquiries dealt with how to help homeless individuals encountered on the street, loitering enforcement, homeless pets, de-criminalizing of the homeless, and what will be done with the tent encampments in the Santa Ana River bed.
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But Do couldn't keep his critics away. Do
Besides the aforementioned hiccup, the end of the forum still drew an applause after Do described how his time living in a political refugee camp influenced his devotion to helping the homeless. Panelists stuck around to speak to individuals after the town hall ended. And many exited the Hall of Administration to ironically walk through a pathway of transients and their makeshift homes.