Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Proposed Fullerton Homeless Shelter

Last Monday night, I went to a Town Hall Meeting at the Fullerton Public Library to learn about the proposed Year-Round Emergency Homeless Shelter in Fullerton.  The meeting was full to capacity, with people lining the walls.  The moderator of the meeting was Rusty Kennedy, director of OC Human Relations, who is also part of the Fullerton Task force on Homelessness and Mental Health Services.  The meeting began with a prayer by local reverend Darrel McGowan, whom I met at a KCET taping at The Magoski Arts Colony about the Kelly Thomas Memorial Art Show last year.  Here's the video that KCET's Artbound made:

Rusty began by giving a little background/context for the proposed homeless shelter.  In the aftermath of the tragic beating death of Kelly Thomas by the Fullerton Police,  a Task Force was created to address the housing and mental health needs of Fullerton's homeless population.  You can read their full report HERE.  Prior to the death of Kelly Thomas, the County of Orange began to draft a Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.  You can read the finished draft HERE.  

The number one recommendation of both the Homeless Task Force and the Ten-Year Plan was a permanent year-round homeless shelter, which has now been proposed.  You can read more about it on the City of Fullerton web site HERE.

Next, Karen Roper, director of OC Community Services, gave a powerpoint presentation on the proposed shelter.  She cited data showing over 18,000 homeless people in Orange County, some of whom are women and children.  I learned about the reality of homeless children from an HBO documentary called Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.  Here's a trailer for that film:

Roper explained how, historically, Orange County has taken a more reactive than proactice approach to homelessness, and this has led to a lack of fundamental services, like a year-round emergency shelter.  This reactive approach is not cost-effective because it requires multiple overlapping agencies to put various types of band-aids on the problem, without addressing its real needs.

Roper explained how, currently, Fullerton's homeless population have The Armory, a 7,000 square foot shelter that is only open during the winter months, and which guests must leave at 5am each day.  Homelessness, of course, is not a season issue.  It is year-round.  The proposed new shelter is 29,000 square feet, and will provide numerous services year-round.

When Roper began addressing various concerns of local residents regarding the shelter, things got interesting.  One concern she addressed was the proximity of the new shelter to Commonwealth Elementary School.  As soon as she said those words, people in the audience began yelling things like "Yeah!" and "We know!"  Thus began a constant stream of audience interruption which made it difficult for her to finish her presentation.  Nevertheless, she continued.

To address the issue of the proximity to the school, she explained how the current Armory is also very close to Pacific Drive School, Eastside Christian School, and a day care center, and that there have never been safety issues with the proximity to those schools.  She showed photographs of The Armory, as well as other shelters in cities that are very close to schools, sometimes even sharing a fence, and cited data which showed no safety issues.  In numerous cases, according to Roper, the proximity of a homeless shelter to schools has not created problems, due to effective security measures.  Despite Roper's data and examples, however, many people at the meeting were not satisfied, and continued yelling things and interrupting.  I suppose if I had a child attending Commonwealth Elementary School, I too would be concerned, and maybe exhibit these kinds of "gut" reactions.  Over the course of the meeting, however, it became clear that those opposed to the shelter were not particularly interested in data and facts.  They were simply angry.

After Karen Roper gave her presentation, Shawn Nelson, current Orange County Supervisor, discussed the shelter and the process by which they arrived at the current location.  Another concern that Nelson raised was the supposed loss in property values that residents might experience should a Homeless Shelter be built near their property.  This concern with property values and fear of elements which might jeopardize them has a long and storied history in Orange County.  When Nelson raised this issue, people again began yelling things.  Shawn Nelson, who has in the past made some classic "foot-in-mouth" blunders said to an elderly man who kept yelling things (some of which were incoherent), "The Tourette's Syndrome does not serve you well, sir."  Real classy, Shawn.

Shawn Nelson is not my favorite OC politician, but he did bring up an interesting point regarding property values.  He said he lived in a house very near to the current Armory homeless shelter, and that when he sold his house, it had not lost value.  This is somewhat relevant, but not entirely convincing.  Karen Roper and Larry Haynes, director of Mercy House, cited data and experience showing that proximity to a homeless shelter does not, in fact, drive down property values.  A recent study that I found also indicates that proximity to homeless shelters, in some cases, actually increases property values.  The audience members were not convinced, however.  

One issue that was raised is Shawn Nelson's relationship with the real estate broker, Cameron Irons, who will be getting a commission from the sale of the building.  To read about the sole-source contract between the OC Supervisors and Cameron Irons, click HERE.  I'm not sure if this is shady or not, but if Shawn Nelson and/or Cameron Irons are trying to personally profit from a homeless shelter, that is disturbing.

After brief introductions by Pam Keller of Fullerton Collaborative and Col. J.D. DeCaprio (the Fullerton Police Department's "homeless liaison"), Larry Haynes, director of Mercy House, introduced himself and talked about the proposed shelter.  I was impressed by Larry Haynes, who seems like a sincere and compassionate guy, and who has worked with homeless people for years.  Here's a video I found in which Larry explains what Mercy House does and why they do it:

After the presentations by the various panel members, Rusty Kennedy fielded questions from the audience.  The format for question and answer portion was this: Attendees wrote their questions on note cards, which Rusty then read, and various members of the panel answered them.  However, as I mentioned before, the meeting often degenerated into people shouting things from the audience. 

The latest issue of the Fullerton Observer has an in-depth article about the meeting, with many of the questions and answers.  You can read that article HERE.

Needless to say, I will be following this issue with great interest in the coming weeks.


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