Wednesday October 26, 2016 Santa Ana's City Council voted to undertake "The Orchard" as the City's first permanent housing solution for the homeless. Along with the County's proposed "Kramer Place" development in Anaheim, expected to be operational late 2017, the number of year-round shelter spots available to the County's homeless are slowly growing.
The new facility, expected to maintain a 77 bed capacity, is the latest progression by City and County officials to work towards a viable solution for Orange County's homeless population. However, much work is still needed to meet the current demand.
Taking over the space from an existing hotel, the $1.2 million project will be run by Mercy House, the non-profit tasked with operating the County's seasonal emergency cold weather armory shelters. As the third planned investment into Orange County's future, many hope the announcement signifies the end of the City and County's systemic avoidance in allocating resources to its homeless citizens.
Earlier this month, the County declared Downtown Santa Ana's Civic Center a public health crisis zone. This was following increased demands by homeless and community advocates as the Civic Center's population has steadily grown to over 400 people. Due in part to a lack of affordable housing throughout the County, the homeless have been congregating at the base of the Government buildings surrounding the Civic Center for years and the announcement of City and County supported facilities such as "The Orchard" is seen by some as a glimmer of hope.
Coinciding with the declaration of the public health crisis, the County converted an abandoned bus terminal previously purchased for more than $30 million into an emergency shelter with the hopes of reducing the Civic Center's population.
Aptly named "The Courtyard," the facility is operated by Midnight-Mission and overseen by City-Net. The Los Angeles based non-profits received $1.4 million and $150,000, respectively, through annual contracts to utilize the space to transition the Civic Center's homeless into permanent housing. In its first month of operation, "The Courtyard" has become home to more than 250 individuals and has provided many people with the help they need to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
Despite its offerings of one-inch foam sleeping pads, laundry service, showers, storage for personal belongings, and meal service hosted by local non-profits and churches, a large number of homeless remain at the Civic Center.
Having built up a community in the area, many remain due to a sense of family and belonging with those whom they have shared the sidewalks for all these years. Entering a shelter and transitioning to housing is an isolating experience, especially for those who have endured years of isolation from society while finding solace among those who are similarly situated.
The efforts put forth by the City of Santa Ana and The County of Orange are commendable. Although, they fall short in terms of meeting the demand for the provision of desperately needed "wrap-around" services that empower individuals to maintain a successful transition.
Even with the opening of "The Courtyard," the Civic Center has remained home to more than 300 people. The Santa Ana Riverbed, is home to upwards of 500 people and countless more remain dispersed throughout the County.
Without addressing the need for increased mental health services, more accessible recovery programs, legal aid, job training, and the development of a strong sense of purpose through the possibility of employment as outreach coordinators to give back to their community, these efforts can only go so far.
With dreams of one day being able to provide such programs alongside our burritos, The Orange County Burrito Project will keep on rolling and continue to offer our remaining homeless neighbors a warm meal and compassion in the form of human interaction.
We hope you join us.