Homeless issue update
A hundred or so interested individuals attended the Irvine meeting, many of whom had traveled to Santa Ana on March 27 in a successful effort to protest an Orange County Board of Supervisors plan that could have sent 400 homeless individuals to a tent city at county-owned land next to the Great Park. The supervisors voted to rescind the tent city plan at that hearing.
“You folks were magnificent in the way you came together,” Wagner told those in attendance, thanking them for “how this community rallied in a very short period of time, and made a very effective case to stop a very ill-conceived idea. You made quite a difference in coming out, in being so vocal, and frankly being so vocal in a respectful way.”
Wagner went on to update the group on what occurred earlier in the day, when he and Supervisor Spitzer were among some 100 mayors, city managers and other officials in U.S. District Court Judge David Carter’s courtroom.
Carter is the federal judge presiding over litigation related to the homeless. He has ordered county and city officials to find beds in shelters, mental health, and other facilities for members of the homeless populations that had been living along the Santa Ana river and at the Santa Ana Civic Center.
“The judge said the homeless issue is everyone’s problem,” Wagner explained. “And he said very emphatically ‘find me a location.’”
Wagner said that he explained to the judge that Irvine already does a good deal to help with housing for the homeless and low-income individuals, including 4,300 affordable units in the city, with 1,000 more coming. The city is also home to organizations that provide beds to the homeless, including Human Options and Families Forward.
“Irvine is a very generous community that is working toward finding a solution to the homeless population,” Wagner said. “We are very much interested in being part of the solution.”
A suggestion Wagner offered in response to the judge’s insistence on proportionality where each city provide enough beds for its share of the homeless population was that South County cities get together to craft a unified solution.
“What you really need is not just a bed, but you need a way to take those people who want help, need help, deserve help…and get them help. It makes no sense for the county to have all these wraparound services—mental health facilities, regular emergency room facilities, job placement, job training—in Irvine and in each city.”
Wagner explained to the judge that there is a meeting of the South Orange County Mayors Association already scheduled for April 19, and that Wagner and the other mayors will discuss potential sites for emergency beds and other solutions. According to an OC Register report, Carter called that idea a “golden opportunity.”
The mayor made clear in response to a question from the audience that potential solutions and potential sites in the city offered for discussion are not alternate places to locate a tent city. “There is no tent city,” Wagner said.
Rather, there might be consideration to provide a shelter with beds for homeless veterans or for women and children fleeing abusive relationships.
Any homeless individuals would be vetted, with requirements such as having no open warrants or sex offense convictions.
Wagner made it clear that public safety will be the most important consideration when analyzing any potential option for providing additional beds in the city. “Irvine is very forceful in enforcing laws,” he said, adding that the city would do nothing to encourage “magnet issues,” where providing services leads to others gravitating to a location. “We’re not going to let anyone freeload.”
Spitzer, who is hardliner when it comes to a criminal element among the homeless, said he believes there is a percentage of the homeless who can’t or won’t accept help. But he also described meeting homeless people living at the riverbed who deserved compassion. One was a woman in an abusive relationship, and another was a veteran in a wheelchair with stage four cancer. “If you knew their stories, and met the people, you would want to help them,” Spitzer said.
Wagner and Spitzer explained that the city can’t just say “no.” After residents and city officials successfully fought plans for a tent city near the Great Park, the city must remain part of the process of looking for solutions, or suffer the possible consequences. Those include having Carter or another judge rule that the city’s anti-vagrancy and anti-camping laws, and other tools the police department uses to ensure public safety, cannot be enforced if there are not other options (namely beds) in the city available.
“You said ‘no.’ You prevailed. Now come to the table with an open mind.” Wagner advised. “You created the opportunity for dialogue. Now, the hard work begins.”