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By Eric Heinz
It’s been a raucous week in the arena of issues related to the homeless in Orange County, which will resume from whence it started in February—in Federal Judge David O. Carter’s chambers.
On March 19, the Board of Supervisors voted to schedule three locations in the cities of Laguna Niguel, Irvine and Huntington Beach to receive homeless people from the Santa Ana riverbed—all of which vowed legal retaliation. Then on March 22 at a federal court hearing presided over by Carter regarding a lawsuit between the County and Orange County Catholic Worker, supervisors said they made the decision to relocate the homeless out of “haste.”
Then on March 27, the board voted unanimously (with Supervisor Michelle Steel of the second district absent) to rescind the three-city decision and directed the County’s staff to further study locations for homeless shelters. The board also voted to enter into a contract with American Family Housing for 12 additional housing units to accommodate couples and to continue to authorize an expenditure of $70.5 million of Mental Health Services Act funds.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson of District 4 and current vice president of the board, commended the County on its efforts during the March 27 board meeting.
“This has been handled exceptionally,” Nelson said to a response of jeers from audience members.
Nelson pointed the finger at Los Angeles County and its own homeless population as a comparison, which is about 50,000 compared to Orange County’s estimated 5,000.
“Please, understand that everyone wants to help, but we need shelters, and some communities have been shouldering that burden,” Nelson said, adding Fullerton and a few other cities he represents already had shelters in place.
County officials said Orange County receives money from the state annually from the Mental Health Services Act, which can roll over if the funds aren’t used. The lawsuit from Orange County Catholic Worker alleges the County didn’t spend that money in such a way that would help people who are homeless into housing.
“With the cities’ cooperation, we can start to spend those dollars, and we have a lot of projects coming forward,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents San Clemente’s, Dana Point’s and San Juan Capistrano’s fifth district. “But without cooperation, we can’t implement any long-term solutions. We (made) a hasty decision with a process we needed to fix, and we needed to hit the reset button.”
The hearing in which all cities’ mayors and managers in Orange County will be present is still scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 3 at the Santa Ana federal courthouse.
A letter from the city of San Clemente to Carter stated a laundry list of items it had accomplished in the last few years to address homelessness.