Homeless in OC: Long-term housing solutions for a growing population
KPCC Orange County reporter Erika Aguilar moderated a panel discussion on homelessness in Orange County on June 15 at the Brookhurst Community Center in Anaheim. In light of a 5 percent increase in Orange County’s homeless population and increased deaths among the homeless during the past two years, the panel explored how long-term homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing are being addressed in the county.
The availability of affordable housing was a recurring theme. Eve Garrow, a policy analyst focusing on homelessness for the ACLU of Southern California, remarked on the difficulty in obtaining housing: “If you are lucky enough to get on a waiting list, you will wait between four and eight years to get to the top of that list and obtain affordable housing.”
Paul Leon, the CEO of Illumination Foundation, added, “It does no good to add services if you don’t have housing on the back end.” During a discussion on whether homeless people need to be prepared via other services before getting access to housing, Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter said, “I disagree that people need to be ready for housing; I think that we need to be ready for them.”
The discussion touched on challenges facing the homeless community and those trying to deliver services and resources to them. Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said that when it comes to the struggle to build more homeless shelters, “we are fighting to have more facilities all the time.” He said the county had funded the construction of housing from modified steel shipping containers at Potter’s Lane in Midway City and was looking at the Santa Ana transit terminal as a potential shelter site. Garrow followed up with the statistic that the county currently has only enough resources to shelter half of the population that needs it.
Other factors further strain resources. Price said an unintended consequence of Prop. 47 is that more people have left the prison system without a place to go. Leon pointed to public health issues including substance abuse and mental wellness as necessitating different kinds of services.
When it comes to doing a homeless count, Larry "Smitty" Smith, a Civic Center Roundtable advocate, spoke on the difficulty in trying to accurately assess a community that is often forced to avoid notice. He said, "It's almost impossible to do a count, because we stay invisible for a reason."
During the course of the conversation, many ideas for potential solutions arose, though Do said, “People are trying too hard to find a solution. There is no one solution. There are many solutions; each person’s situation is unique.” He went on to suggest that the county create a single phone number that would serve as a resource to give access to all county services and community partners. Smith suggested making it easier to get transit passes after relating his experience: "You've got to sign three forms to get a one-day bus pass just to get to the doctor.”
The remaining suggestions all focused back on housing. Leon stressed the need for county leadership to spend money on affordable housing. Garrow suggested that the county create a dedicated housing trust fund to create that affordable housing. Price offered the idea of creating a tax incentive for landlords to set aside open rooms for those who have housing choice vouchers.