Since the death of Kelly Thomas on July 10, 2011, Fullerton has changed how they deal with their homeless population but unfortunately the population is growing.
“It seems to be like there’s more homeless,” Cpl. Dan Heying of the Homeless Liaison Unit said.
The homeless population in Orange County has grown 5% since 2013 with the homeless population standing at 4,452 as of 2015. According to the Point in Time (PIT) count, done by 211, a nonprofit organization that connects the homeless population to vital resources.
“Well, this is a crisis that we’re all facing” City Manager Joe Felz said, “the nature of homelessness has certainly changed with the significant component of mental illness, addictions of a variety of sorts that create an unstable life, so much of it is just getting educated on how to assist them.”
After the death of Kelly Thomas, Fullerton Police Department teamed with Coast to Coast Foundation in 2012 to help reach out to the homeless population of Fullerton.
According to Heying, together the Fullerton Police Department and Coast to Coast Foundation help do everything from relocate the homeless if they can find them shelter in a reasonable distance, to forming relationships with the local homeless population in order to better help them off the streets.
“We understand they’re in a bad spot, for whatever reason.” Heying said.
The Fullerton Police Department has taken a better understanding of the homeless situation when it comes to crime and will allow them to go to Outreach Court which allows them to waive their fees for tickets if they enroll themselves in a sober living or rehab facility.
There is also a winter shelter in Fullerton called The Fullerton Armory which provides 200 beds to the homeless during the winter months. It is expected to open towards the end of November.
While this is an important shelter to help the homeless from freezing to death, with a second shelter also being locate in Santa Ana during the winter, Felz feels that it is only a temporary solution to homelessness.
“That’s just a roof and a mat, there’s no program to say ‘ok, tell me your story’,” Felz said, “I’m not portraying it as negative, you need that, it’s cold, but you’re only addressing one issue.”
Outside of the city’s efforts, organizations such as local nonprofit Pathways of Hope have been doing their best to help the local homeless population.
“Despite the pervasive belief that all of Orange County’s citizens are affluent, many individuals and families are struggling with homelessness and food insecurity.” Executive Director of Pathways of Hope Pam Sousa said, “Pathways of Hope partners with a variety of organizations, congregations and businesses to ensure that we are able to serve each unique individual and family with the most efficient, effective approach possible.”
“For over forty years, Pathways of Hope has been providing food, housing programs, and support and prevention services to those who are hungry and homeless. We operate shelters in Fullerton and in Anaheim, and we also run a food and resource center called the HUB of Hope.” Sousa said, “Pathways believes that everyone deserves a roof over their heads and food on the table, and we are dedicated to rebuilding lives of the hungry and homeless in our community.”
While these services are doing their best to help the population in Fullerton, a more concerning population exists in the center of Orange County.
The growing concern over the encampments in the Civic Center area in Santa Ana and encampments along the Santa Ana Riverbed have county officials scratching their heads.
While Heying believes that there’s no direct tie between the homeless situation in Fullerton & Santa Ana, it is direct in the sense that “it’s everywhere.”
“The Civic Center is a different population; it’s really exploding down there.” Felz said, “Here in Fullerton, you going to have homeless that can negotiate their way through the day.. The Civic Center is an encampment that has many challenges ahead.”
The civic center encampment has a population of almost 500 homeless, with tents lining the entire area. A walk around reveals trash, men bathing in city fountains, syringe caps, beds inside of parking structure stairways, stained concrete but yet a calm of a makeshift community.
Earlier this month, Santa Ana City Council declared the Civic Center’s encampment a public health and safety crisis, with a bus depot near the center being planned to open as a temporary shelter until the city can resolve their issue.
The county is hoping that the first planned county-wide 365 days a year homeless shelter will help with the issue in the Civic Center.
“Our next significant effort county-wide is to have permanent shelters.” Felz says in hopes that such shelter’s will provide programs to help get people in temporary shelter into permanent housing.
The homeless shelter, located in Anaheim, is expected to be open in the later half of 2017, Fullerton having pitched in over $1,000,000 along with other cities to open the shelter.
The only problem with this shelter is that there will only be 200 beds, would require a screening process, would deny walk-ins, would only allow a maximum of 30 day stays, the county assuring the area has more police presence and many additional requirements to assure those living near the shelter feel safe.
While many celebrate the shelter’s creation, 200 beds a year for the current more than 2,000 unsheltered homeless population might not be enough to solve the problem especially when this population is growing.
“The is no one answer,” Felz said, “This is a human crisis that is happening, and you have to take it one person at a time.”