Kraemer Shelter: Bridges Over Challenging Waters

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When the proposal to place a homeless shelter near my Rio Vista neighborhood was announced, concerns and objections soon emerged. The shelter had already been rejected by Santa Ana and Fullerton, and its original location had been changed from the centrally located Karcher site to the border between the cities of Anaheim and Orange. Kraemer is in a commercial and industrial area, and two neighborhoods from these cities, the Rio Vista and Riverdale are within a reasonable walking distance from the shelter.

The homelessness crisis had not been felt in my neighborhood until the vacant Ralphs’ market building became a gathering spot for homeless individuals. The few close earlier experiences with homelessness had been when the housing market crash left an evicted family’s furniture in the front yard, the mentally disturbed neighbor who opted to live in the streets, and a fellow who spent his entire days in the nearby library.

The Riverdale neighbors may have had a much closer and frequent encounter with homeless living in the river. The death of four homeless persons – one of them, John Berry, a Vietnam War veteran – by a serial killer in 2011-2012, was a tragic indication that the crisis was not only a phenomenon in the downtown areas of the cities and involved people who did not fit the homeless stereotype. John Berry, in addition of being a veteran, was considered a very spiritual person, apparently not suffering from drug or substance abuse, or mentally disturbed. Mr Berry was killed by another veteran, from the Iraq war.

In the neighbors’ reaction to the proposed shelter there was an underlying fear of having something like LA’s Mission, attracting drug addicts/substance abusers/mentally disturbed homeless overflowing into the residential areas. This fear was stressed by some of the opposition to the shelter, overshadowing the legitimate concerns of the neighbors.

This approach taken by elected officials, at the county and city level, and by most advocates, didn’t help. Based on the lessons of the previous rejections, the strategy implemented included the strong support of faith-based organizations, from the classical Catholic charities, from Unitarians to the more conservative mega-churches, and to ignore and pay lip service to the requests of the neighbors to be included in the plans to establish the shelter.

The shelter opened May 5th, and I don’t think that many neighbors were invited to the opening ceremony.   A community meeting was held on May 16th, and not too many neighbors attended. Advocates, mostly not from the impacted neighborhoods, took most of the Q&A time. The meeting was held in a local church, in contrast with most of the community forums when the shelter was being proposed, which took place in churches far from our neighborhoods.

The current operation of the shelter addresses most of the concerns of both business owners and neighbors. The business owners are pleased so far, although they still feel negatively impacted in the long term if they try to sell their property. They have made this point since the beginning that the values plummeted by having a shelter, not matter how well managed. The tight design and operation of the shelter has strict policies. Gabriel San Roman described the limitations of these policies and the history on enacting the shelter in this article.

The goal is to significantly reduce or eliminate homelessness, and how to accomplish that is an open, ongoing question. We react based on so many factors, and tend to simplify the problem and solutions, such as considering using unused or under-utilized public spaces like the ARTIC station as a temporary shelter during inclement weather.  The camping ordinance puts again the needs of this vulnerable population at odds with the residents’ concerns. As we debate the legality and feasibility of actions, human lives in our own backyards are exposed to conditions not associated with wealthy nations.

It has been a challenge already for the shelter’s operator to maintain the shelter as designed. They report that an agency has already tried to bring a person from one of the cities not covered by them.  It is more of a challenge for all of us to address the needs of the overwhelming homeless population. The Board of Supervisors has proposed that a couple more shelters are needed in other areas of the county, that affordable housing is a required component of a reasonable solution. Whether this will make Orange County a magnet for out-of-town folks is another open question. One advocate at the meeting stated that it is a myth that homeless people migrate on their own to places with services for them. It has been reported that a hospital from a another State was inquiring whether the Santa Ana Courtyard would accept one of their discharged patients.

Neighbors from the city of Orange are reporting an increase of mini-camps near the river. I hope that their concerns and the needs of the homeless in that area are addressed, by not following the idea still proposed by one of their neighbors:

“My solution is that the Counties work together, as they did to decide to put this shelter where it is now….and find a place with inexpensive rural land. Put up a kibbutz like they have in Israel. “

About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly.