Neighbors United For Fullerton (NUFF) held an open forum called “Homelessness: Next Steps for Fullerton?” on Monday night at the Fullerton Library, in order to discuss how the city can deal with the issue of homelessness.
The panel included local leaders County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, former assemblywoman and Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva, Corporal Mike McCaskill, and executive director of Pathways of Hope, a local nonprofit, Maria Avallaneda.
The panelists each gave an overview on homelessness in Fullerton, discussed their distinct experience with the issue and ways they thought the homeless issue could be dealt with.
The panelists were faced with the challenge of finding a balance between providing for the general public’s safety but also finding the means and resources to help and support the homeless.
A major topic of the night was getting a permanent homeless shelter in Fullerton.
Nelson mentioned how many local officials and residents are all for the idea of getting the homeless a shelter. But once a location is found, they are met with opposition from the same people who say things like “this is not the place; it’s too close to schools; it’s too close to kids; it’s too close to jobs and quite frankly it’s too close to me.”
Nelson said that behavior was absurd since many of the current temporary shelters are already close to schools, children and businesses.
Currently, 1000 Kraemer Place is in the works to be accepted as the new shelter in the Fullerton area, and Nelson is hoping it will be open by summer of 2016.
Quirk-Silva talked about the “hidden homeless” who people tend to not see as much. Most of these homeless are people living with their families, women with children and veterans.
“That’s one of the fastest growing populations, the homeless veterans,” she said. “It’s not something we can stand for.”
Quirk-Silva, who is now a third grade teacher at Golden Hill Elementary, talked about a student of hers who currently lives at Pathways of Hope.
“We imagine […] that those who are homeless are drug dealers and all of these images that we want to create,” Quirk-Silva said.
One of the panelists who had a different standpoint of the whole issue was McCaskill, who is part of Fullerton’s homeless liaison and deals mostly with chronic homeless individuals on the streets.
“We try to go out and engage with the homeless […] we deal with a lot of people who aren’t quite ready to get off the streets,” said McCaskill. “The majority of people we deal with either have mental health issues, drug or alcohol addiction or something else that’s keeping them on the street. “
McCaskill is faced with not having enough resources to help the people who do want help. They do not have a place to send people who might need a place to stay, need help dealing with mental issues or help getting a job.
McCaskill hopes that a permanent shelter can help people get settled, get them on a path to recovery and also give them the ability to seek social services that will help them get back into society.
The last panelist to speak was Avallaneda, who was representing the nonprofit organizations in the Fullerton area.
Avallaneda spoke on the difficulty of finding affordable housing in Orange County, given that the median cost for a one-bedroom apartment is $1238.
“If I am a single mother and I have two kids and I’m working a minimum wage job, out of my paycheck I can pay $468 a month,” she said. “If I was just gonna work that minimum wage job, I would have to work 110 hours a week”
Avallaneda’s organization helps homeless individuals find shelter and long-term housing and ways to help them find the means to support themselves.
She also challenged local developers to find ways to make new housing locations affordable, in an effort to help fight homelessness in Fullerton.
At the end of the panel, all of the local leaders agreed that the City of Fullerton needs the collaboration between both private (non-profits) and public (police department and city officials) organizations in order to solve the issue at hand.