Homeless are Still Homeless but They Sure are Getting Mucho Attention

Homelessness in the shadow of the Big A. Photo by John Gilhooley

The only thing that could make Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles hotter would be to take every single thing away from him and stick him in Orange County.

That’s how hot Orange County homeless people are right now.

(Side message to Foles: Should you go through with that, keep the Super Bowl ring somewhere safe in Philadelphia. Just sayin’.)

The County of Orange has been issuing multiple press releases weekly on what is being done about the homeless population, some of which was recently relocated from river trails to motels. 

A recent advisory informed that the county is extending the availability of 700 400 emergency beds. [Clarification: The announcement concerns shelter beds at the county’s Fullerton and Santa Ana armories, not the motel rooms recently provided to more than 700 people who had been living in the riverbed.]

Other official missives include the “Weekly Homelessness Update” from Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do, who on Wednesday informed that in 24 months, the county will open a new $26 million mental health facility to help with the homeless problem.

Also on Wednesday, top leaders from the county’s corporate, philanthropic, faith-based, government and non-profit sectors gathered at UC Irvine for the official launch of “United to End Homelessness,” a community-wide initiative led by Orange County United Way “that will work to ensure integrated and sustainable solutions are implemented for people suffering from homelessness in Orange County,” according to a spokesperson.

The United to End Homelessness Leadership Council includes executives from Disneyland, Angels Baseball, the Ducks, Chargers, Kaiser Permanente and Wahoo’s, along with representatives of the Orange County Business Council, Association of California Cities-Orange County, UC Irvine, the Orange County Community Foundation, Apartment Association of Orange County and the Hospital Association of Southern California.

One Orange County received assistance from another Orange County at the Irvine launch. Florida officials were on hand to advise the United to End Homelessness Leadership Council on best practices. The Floridians’ Orlando initiative Rethink Homelessness has reduced homelessness there by 50 percent, says the United to End Homelessness spokesperson.

Saying they are in it to end homelessness in Orange County are (from left): Andrae Bailey, president, Lead Homelessness and former CEO, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness; Becks Heyhoe, Housing and Income program manager, Orange County United Way; Jacob Stuart, retired president of Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce; Linda Gonzalez, president, Orlando Magic Youth Foundation; Sue Parks, CEO and president, OC United Way; David Swanson, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Florida; Ami Lief, Community Impact project coordinator, OC United Way; Kay Warren, Saddleback Church; Brenyale Toomer-Byas, MSW, senior director, Housing and Workforce Development, OC United Way; Carla Vargas, chief operating officer, OC United Way. Photo courtesy of United to End Homelessness

“Ending chronic street homelessness will require a sea change in understanding about who our homeless neighbors are, their needs and what it will take to find lasting solutions,” said Larry Armstrong, CEO of Irvine-based architecture and engineering firm Ware Malcomb and the founding chairman of United to End Homelessness, during the launch.

“We must change hearts and minds about whom the homeless are, how they became homeless in the first place and the tough decisions that will need to be made so we can best help them.”

On Thursday, artist/designer/architect Armstrong took that message to the International Executive Council Tastemakers Experience within the Sea Pointe Estates gated community in San Clemente, where Nolet Gin and Kettle One Vodka specialty drinks flowed and Sundried Tomato Catering delicacies were gobbled up. (I’ve got an idea on what to do with the leftovers. Just sayin’.)

The hits keep coming: At 10 a.m. today, the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force meets in Buena Park to hear an overview on a multi-city homeless census that will be conducted later this month or in early April.

Sharing the overview is Brad Fieldhouse, the executive director of City Net, with is composed of nonprofits working to end street-level homelessness in specific cities or regions through coordinated community efforts.

The task force, which was launched in October, is focused not only on the homeless crisis but gang activity. A four-year pilot program that was made possible by $20 million in state funding secured by state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), the task force is comprised of the police chiefs of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia, Stanton and Yorba Linda.

The North Orange County police chiefs are scheduled to be in attendance this morning, including Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez, who along with Newman and Fieldhouse is one of the speakers. The meeting is at Buena Park Community Center, 6688 Beach Blvd., Buena Park.

Sue Parks, president and CEO of Orange County United Way, explained why the homeless issue is so hot right now in Orange County as she unveiled the United to End Homelessness Leadership Council.

“Homelessness in Orange County has grown into crisis proportions,” she said, “and will spiral out of control unless we, as a community, come together to shine the light on and expand real and lasting solutions.”

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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