Irvine says “Yes” to helping those who are indeed in need
Irvine should be congratulated for the victory, but let’s not go so far as to be self-congratulatory. Irvine’s reputation took a pretty big hit in the process. Many now view us as lacking compassion, as elitists and NIMBYs.
Of course public safety, the protection of our children, families, schools, parks and playgrounds, takes precedence over public opinion. There’s no shame in being a NIMBY when your “back yard” is one of the finest cities in the nation, a place so many have worked so hard to make what it is today.
But when moms, dads and teachers in Santa Ana, Orange and Anaheim said they wanted us to all know that they love their children, too, it struck a nerve. Those families have been dealing with issues of homelessness for decades. Let’s show them they are not alone.
As regular readers know, we at ICN are avowed Irvine exceptionalists. We know how much Irvine already does for the disadvantaged in the city and the region. Still, we believe Irvine can and should do more. We can be a leader among the other 34 cities in the county, to take on the issue of homelessness, and provide solutions, not just protestations.
Irvine can also say “yes.”
If we’re going to volunteer, be asked, or court-ordered to do more than our share to help the homeless, we should do it the Irvine way. With a masterplan, intelligently executed, and by calling on the resources of excellence we have in the city: the business community, non-profits, educational institutions, civic leaders, and citizens.
So what can and should we do? First, let’s make clear what’s off the table… forever. No tent cities in Irvine. No transients spending their days at the Orange County Great Park, near our schools, playgrounds or retail centers. No drug dealers with face tattoos riding stolen bikes to deliver contraband to the addicted. No predators.
Not in Irvine.
Fear mongering? Not so fast. We visited the Santa Ana River camps often, and that’s what we observed first-hand. But we also saw veterans who served their country, we saw families, and we saw folks who simply down on their luck.
So one of the things we’d like is some education on the nature of compassion—do unto others, and all that. We’ll work on that here; we hope you will in your areas of influence, also.
But enough preaching—let’s get problem solving. Here are a few blue-sky ideas, some practical and some probably non-starters, on how we in Irvine can help solve the immediate emergency crisis, and how to address the issues that contributed to it long-term.
First, any solution that involves the land adjacent to the Great Park should be predicated on the Board of Supervisors abandoning their ill-conceived plan to build a large and dense retail and condominium complex on the county-owned 108 acres that includes nearly 2,000 housing units and 1 million square feet of office space.
That plan is currently subject to litigation; the Board of Supervisors should withdraw it, and the city should buy or otherwise obtain control over that land, perhaps by the county agreeing that city planning applies to projects on it.
While the city should identify a location for both emergency temporary shelter and more permanent facilities in the city, if available, it should not be adjacent to the Great Park.
We’re certain city staff, experts and others are already exploring suitable locations, perhaps in a vacant industrial tilt-up building in the less dense industrial sectors of the city, such as near the Tustin Air Base/Santa Ana border-adjacent areas of the IBC, or in the Irvine Industrial Complex East. These areas are relatively distant from parks, playgrounds and schools.
With the right facilities, an indoor shelter seems much more humane than a tent city. What should be done with that land? We’d support using it as a housing solutions incubator. California is in a housing crisis, and not just for the homeless. Let’s streamline regulation and red tape on the county land, and let the city’s best and brightest architects, developers and housing advocates innovate.
Meanwhile, Irvine should redouble its support of nonprofits that serve the needy, both in the city and elsewhere. Our city is wealthy in talent and resources. Let’s start spreading that wealth around a bit more.
Do the homes and shelters Mercy House runs in Santa Ana and Anaheim need support? Let’s offer it, be it financial or in kind. Does Teen Project have its eye on another potential College House in Lake Forest?
The house is for five or six young women, 18-24 years old, who have “aged out” of the foster care system and are homeless or disadvantaged. They stay for about two years each, paying $200 a month in rent that goes in to a savings account returned to them when they leave.
They have a live-in house mom for support and supervision, receive room and board, college support, paid job internships, an automobile obtainment program, and independent living education.
We’d be YIMBYs (yes in my back yard) for services like these where we live. Would you?
Having fought back the tent city proposal, let’s check some of our natural NIMBYism as more amenable, but possibly still uncomfortable, solutions arise.
Here’s one: let’s help veterans. According to online CalVet statistics, Orange County is home to 112,449 veterans, including some 398 who are homeless. CalVet says 129 of those have shelter, while 269 do not.
Let’s fix that first.
One way is to use 20 acres or so of the Great Park land to build a Veterans Home. There are only eight in the state, and most are in Northern California. We’ve seen the large one in Yountville and a smaller, newer one in Redding, which should be the model in Irvine.
It’s home to 154 residents, and sits on 11 acres of donated land. It took 18 years from the initial legislation to completion of the Redding home—let’s see how much better Irvine can do, especially with the CalVet approved Veterans Cemetery going in at the Strawberry Fields a mile or two away.
Veterans age 55 and above and discharged from active military service under honorable conditions, are eligible to apply for admission. Residents engage in a wide range of activities, and “live in an atmosphere of dignity and respect—a true home for each resident veteran.”
They enjoy comprehensive medical, dental, pharmacy, rehabilitation services and social activities within a homelike, small community environment.
CalVet says the Veterans Homes “acknowledge the tremendous sacrifice California veterans have made, and recognizes them for their noble service to our nation.”
Let’s do the same, right here in Irvine.