OC officials approve Anaheim homeless shelter

Robert Martinez, 17, and Anaca Lord, 16, take a moment to rest before moving their belongings in preparation for an Orange County law enforcement and public works
Robert Martinez, 17, and Anaca Lord, 16, take a moment to rest before moving their belongings in preparation for an Orange County law enforcement and public works "sweep" on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Authorities say their aim is to move people out of the way of coming storms. Many homeless individuals have to scramble to find shelter and storage for their personal items to avoid being arrested for camping and having their belongings and animals confiscated.
Susanica Tam/For KPCC

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Orange County supervisors Tuesday voted to purchase a warehouse in Anaheim and turn it into the county's first year-round, permanent emergency shelter for the homeless.

For years, Orange County cities have played hot potato with the proposed shelter, tossing it from Fullerton to Santa Ana but now it seems politicians, especially in Anaheim, have accepted the unpopular task of vouching for a homeless shelter in their community.

"It's about time that we have a homeless shelter," said Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson. "It is the right thing to do. It has never been confused with the perfect thing to do."

The shelter has had its opponents. 

Several hundred people turned out for two community meetings about the shelter: homeless service providers, activists, residents and business owners.

Emotional opposition has mostly come from homeowners and businesses that are within a mile from the Kraemer shelter who fear the shelter would attract crime to the neighborhood and deter customers from stores.

Hundreds of homeless people live in the Santa Ana riverbed already, some say. At another meeting held in November for business owners, some opponents said the shelter would just attract more strangers.

“Loitering is [an] issue,” wrote Joe Kim, who works at a CrossFit center, on a comment card at that meeting.

 “Currently, we have people living on the streets,” he said. "The police isn’t doing anything about it now. We had an incident where a homeless man exposed himself to a child in our facility.”  

But county officials say the homeless have to go somewhere.

“The homeless are already in the city of Anaheim and the surrounding communities,” said Karen Roper, O.C. Community Services director during the last meeting held in September.

Orange County’s homeless population has grown by 5 percent over the last two years, according to the latest homeless census half of them sleep outside in tents, on sidewalks or in vehicles.

On November 30, the county’s emergency winter shelter opens at the Santa Ana and Fullerton armories. Up to 200 homeless people can sleep on mats at each of the facilities but must be out by the morning.

The armories aren’t permanent emergency shelters. So many turn to the riverbed.

The cities of Anaheim and Fullerton each pitched in $500,000 to help the county purchase the $4.2 million warehouse located at 1000 N. Kraemer Place. Brea kicked in another $100,000.

According to concept designs for the shelter, there could be 122 beds for men, 64 beds for women with an additional, separate wing for families. Cots, mats and cribs would be used for overflow.

Flexible sleeping space would also be provided for transgender populations, people with special illnesses or people in recuperative care, according to plans.

Because no walk-ins would be accepted, direct transportation from at least three undetermined locations would be provided. Once vetted, shelter clients would be assigned an employment and housing counselor.

Temporary shelter beds would come with small lockers. Homeless clients with pets could keep their dogs in a kennel and play with them at the facility’s dog park. The proposal also calls for a bike repair station, which would be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Breakfast would be served from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.; dinner at 6 p.m. and lights would go out at 10 p.m.

This story has been updated.