Orange County Leaders Slam Cities for Lack of Cooperation on Homelessness

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – At a special Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, Chairman Andrew Do and Supervisor Shawn Nelson took turns criticizing city leaders and elected officials who have blocked action on providing emergency support services for the county’s homeless population.

Do called the meeting in order to discuss the county’s plan on “housing alternatives and transitional options” for the homeless. Last Tuesday, facing backlash from residents, the board struck down their own proposal to construct temporary housing for homeless people removed from a nearby riverbed encampment.

Do said he is “not wedded” to any particular locations for proposed temporary housing.

“If you have a [site proposal], bring it to me and I will make it happen,” Do said. “We are not trying to ram anything down people’s throat.”

The discussion would have been critical ahead of a federal court hearing on Tuesday called by U.S. District Judge David Carter.

Carter said he would order all city mayors and city managers from the county to attend.

The board’s plan called for the set up of 200 temporary beds or tents in Irvine, and 100 each in Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel. Residents sent in angry emails and showed up in droves to protest the proposal.

The cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel announced lawsuits against the county over the plan.

Nelson said there is “more hostility than compassion showing up on the scoreboard.”

Do said he believed Carter would “fashion a judicial remedy” to compel cities to carry their part of the “burden shouldered by Santa Ana.”

Nelson called the lack of cooperation from cities a “Vegas magic act.”

“The magician says, ‘I need a volunteer,’ and people turn their heads to avoid the gaze. Now someone else goes on stage and the crowd laughs, thankful it’s not them,” Nelson said.

At a status conference Friday, Carter said the burden of designing and implementing a plan to provide comprehensive care and shelter for the homeless must be shared by all 34 cities in the county.

Do criticized board member Todd Spitzer for “engendering fear” and spreading “false information” about the proposed emergency shelters in cities.

Do said he had originally developed a plan for the county’s Third District, which Spitzer represents, without any input from Spitzer.

Mike Robbins, an Orange County resident, said “hateful rhetoric” spread by county supervisors has led to backlash against the homeless. Robbins said homeless people are the most “in danger of violence” from residents.

David Duran, a member of advocacy group Housing is a Human Right Orange County, told Nelson and Do it is “achievable to dissolve homelessness.”

Duran said county officials need to work with cities to find solutions. He said he has seen “some success” with temporary housing and job placement for the homeless, but it is not enough.

Do said concerns about the proposed homeless tents being near schools are unfounded.

The Courtyard, a shelter only blocks away from the Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana, is within walking distance of a high school academy and the Orange County School of the Arts.

Public notices were papered on walls surrounding the Civic Center Plaza in Santa Ana beginning last Friday. The notice alerted homeless people sleeping there no “camping” would be allowed beginning April 2.

On Monday afternoon, most of the homeless sleeping at the Plaza of the Flags were still present.

On Friday, Richard Sanchez, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, told Carter the removals from the plaza would be done in tandem with Santa Ana law enforcement. He said each homeless individual would be assessed and referred to appropriate care providers and temporary housing.

The effort to collectively articulate next steps for the county was stifled by the absence of three supervisors.

Only Nelson and Do were present for the special meeting. Without a quorum, no official action could be taken. Supervisors listened to comment from several residents.

“I’m not sure why my colleagues aren’t here today,” Nelson said.

Victor Cao, chief of staff for Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, said Bartlett had a prior commitment in her district Monday morning but could not cancel “on the basis of a special board meeting that has no substantive recommended actions on the agenda.”

Cao said Bartlett is committed to “communication, collaboration, and consent” regarding any discussion of emergency shelter sites proposed by the board.

Cao said Bartlett plans to participate in tomorrow’s court hearing held by U.S District Judge David Carter.

Calls for comment from Supervisor Michelle Steel and Supervisor Spitzer were not returned.

Jeanine Robbins, a volunteer with Housing is a Human Right OC, called the absence of three supervisors “shameful.”

“This is the number one issue in the county and possibly the state,” Robbins said.

Nelson said NIMBYism is playing a role in the backlash to county proposals for temporary housing.

“We need temporary solutions, but those seem to be the most controversial,” he said.


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