Wielding golden shovels, wearing hard hats and posing for photos, Buena Park city officials on Wednesday celebrated the construction of a navigation center designed to help the homeless.
The 150-person center, which is expected to be finished by Dec. 31, is part of a legal settlement in which 11 North Orange County cities voluntarily decided to try and combat homelessness regionally, with part of the strategy including new navigation centers in Buena Park and Placentia.
The North Service Planning Areas, or SPAs, settled in the Orange County Catholic Worker vs. Orange County case to avoid costly legal fights over how cities address homelessness, and to address the crisis regionally rather than individually.
“This is extraordinarily unique because thus far throughout the state, only individual cities have settled,” said U.S. District Judge David Carter during the settlement proceeding. “I hope you catch the governor’s ear. I think that you’re a role model in terms of coming together, first to cause benefits to your respective cities by having a regional approach.”
The settlement plan was brought to the various city councils’ attention by North SPA city managers, who saw the opportunity to address homelessness in a regional way. By combining their resources and working together, the cities hope to more effectively alleviate the homelessness crisis, according to Buena Park City Manager James Vanderpool.
The Buena Park shelter will cost around $8 million in construction, and $2.5 million annually in operational costs, according Vanderpool. The North SPA cities pooled together their state-allocated SB2 funds, originally meant for affordable housing, in order to cover the price of the navigation centers. Smaller North SPA cities will contribute all of their SB2 funds, whereas larger ones will give half.
The Buena Park navigation center, located at 6494 Caballero Blvd., is in an industrial area due to the initial backlash the city received about placing the shelter closer to a school and residential areas.
“As much as this is a humanitarian effort, we want to preserve public spaces for the public,” Vanderpool said. “We wanted to ensure that the public could have access to their parks, to their sidewalks, to their alleys, to their other public spaces that are currently being occupied otherwise by our homeless neighbors.”
Mercy House, a homelessness nonprofit, will be in charge of operating the Buena Park shelter.
With 145 unsheltered homeless people in the city, Buena Park ranks third in the North SPA cities for such a population, surpassed only by Anaheim and Fullerton, according to the 2019 point-in-time count.
Placentia ranked eighth on the 2019 point-in-time count, with 55 unsheltered homeless people in the city, though Mayor Rhonda Shader said she disputes that number. The Placentia shelter will house 100 people.
Despite the relatively higher number of unsheltered homeless people in other North SPA cities, Buena Park and Placentia will contain the shelters because they had the best locations, according to Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer.
“I would have rather have had the shelter in Fullerton,” Domer said. “I have…excluding Anaheim, the most amount of unsheltered homeless, but we just couldn’t find a site.”
The criterion for deciding where to put the centers included how large the shelter could be and proximity to services, schools and residential areas.
Fullerton has 308 unsheltered homeless people, only surpassed by Anaheim’s 694 without shelter, according the the 2019 point-in-time count.
Anaheim was not part of the settlement because of their existing emergency shelters. Los Alamitos was originally part of the settlement process, but later removed itself.
Part of the settlement was legal protection from lawsuits against how the North SPA cities handle homelessness for four years.
“You could build numerous shelters for the money we’ve probably saved already in litigation expenses out in…Anaheim,” Carter said during the settlement proceedings. “You can almost build one or two shelters for the litigation expenses you’ve already saved.”
Legal protection will allow the North SPAs to spend more money addressing homelessness rather than on costly legal battles, according to Domer, who added that going through continual litigation “only enriches the lawyers; it doesn’t do anything for the homeless and it just spends the city’s money.”
According to Shader, more affordable housing with wraparound services could be a potential next step, but Buena Park and Placentia do not have any current slated plans to pursue more affordable housing.
Absent additional state funding, Buena Park would need to cut existing parts of its budget to provide affordable housing, according to Vanderpool.
“Are we going to solve it? No,” Domer said. “Can it be better managed and maintained and can we start focusing on creating more affordable housing and permanent supportive housing? Hopefully yes.”
An editorial intern and news junkie with a hankering for all things spicy, Jackson gained a passion for journalism writing about housing and homelessness in the Bay Area for the Daily Californian and the Tenderloin Tribune. When not writing, Jackson can be found rambling to anyone who listens about old movies no one else cares about. He can be reached at email@example.com.