OC’s Proposed Budget in Crisis: What happened to the “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness?”


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(except, Steel is Chairwoman now.)

Orange County’s proposed budget for FY 2017-18 as recommended by the CEO totals $6.2 Billion. That’s just a little more than last year, but according to the CEO $769.9M of those funds are considered discretionary, meaning the county can do what ever it pleases with that amount at their own discretion.

The budget will increase funding for jails, but will cut funding for the Social Services Agency meaning less for the General Relief program and eligibility workers will continue to be understaffed and overworked while earning less than a County Dog Catcher Trainee.

General Relief (GR) is the only source of income for hundreds if not a thousand or more homeless people that are unable to work due to a serious disability while they await benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) which can often take several years to be approved. GR benefits are actually only a loan from the county and must be paid back by the recipient. In most cases the cash benefits from GR can be repaid when the case for disability is resolved with Social Security.

The most troubling part of the FY 2017-18 proposed county budget is perhaps not which programs are seeing increased funding and those that are seeing possible cuts, but instead which county programs are not being funded at all.

FY 2017-18 proposes no funding at all towards affordable or supportive housing for ending homelessness. None at all. Last year the county spent $200,000 on housing for the homeless. The amount represented only 1% of the $55M needed investment, hardly the amount that would have ended homelessness in Orange County, but it was at least something.

With the combined infinite wisdom of all of our supervisors and their staff, how could anyone figure that this was the year to stop trying to end homelessness in Orange County? Who said that now was the time to end a years-long commitment to ending homelessness? Maybe there was never a real commitment at all.

Perhaps no one dared to look at the early results of the 2017 Point-in-Time Survey conducted in January that indicates increases in our homeless population for the fourth year in a row and a nearly 8% increase just since 2015. The full report called the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) is due to be presented to Congress in November. I can’t see that the feds will be happy with progress here especially since they have contributed over $250M over the past twenty years and the numbers of homeless are increasing while our county commitment in funding if any funding at all, has been shameful during the same time period.

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Since I mentioned the federal government and their contributions to ending homelessness in Orange County, I probably should mention the federal budget released by the White House last week on May 23, 2017.

Estimates show that federal aid to Orange County will be cut in HUD funding by as much as $68,892,763.

Gone beginning FY 2018 will be the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG’s) that has infused our county with nearly $1B since 1977 for community development programs including homeless assistance.

The HOME Investments Partnerships Program that has funded affordable and supportive housing for the homeless in OC contributed nearly $5.5M last year and will be cut entirely from the new federal budget.

The Housing Choice Voucher program will take a firm hit. OC will receive approximately 2600 fewer vouchers or about 10% of the amount expected over the coming year. Tenant contribution in rent will increase from 30% to 35% of their income. That means that our county’s poorest families, the elderly and disabled persons living in Section 8 housing will have 5% less to spend on education, nutrition and health care.

With these tremendous federal budget cuts in mind and visible homelessness on the steady increase how could any responsible member of our BOS vote in favor of leaving funding to end homelessness out of the county budget?

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Ahhh, but the county wants you to think that they are doing something about homelessness. There is a common deception that our county uses to make you and me think that they are doing something, but they’re really not doing as much as they would like us to think.

One trick the county likes to use is taking all of the credit for programs for ending homelessness that are funded by any other entity than the county itself. Granted there are some costs to the county regarding county staff in order to facilitate some of these programs, but the spending on their part is very little.

Even if the county was doing everything possible to end visible homelessness, would you stand with me and applaud them for their effort even though we have watched together while visible homeless encampments grow visibly larger and closer to our neighborhoods? I didn’t think so.

I would like you to look at the County of Orange FY 2017-18 Recommended Budget Key Budget Message. 

This document should really be called the “County Budget for Dummies” since you and I are deemed incapable of understanding the actual budget and since it is 905 pages long you and I are not likely to try either. The county is counting on that.

But this 8-page beauty will tell you everything you need to know about the budget in layman’s terms. Besides, we can trust the county, right?

If you look on the first page of the Key Budget Message under the heading of “Highlights of the FY 2017-18 Recommended Budget,” it says that:

”Initiatives embedded within the recommended budget include Building a System of Care. The County is moving forward with several key initiatives to improve the overall response to homelessness across the region.”

I understand why the CEO put the homeless issue at the top of the highlights list. The reason is because you and I and the rest of the public, have been putting pressure on the county to do something about the problem of homelessness – and not necessarily because of our compassion for people experiencing homelessness either. We along with many other taxpayers in Orange County are rightfully concerned because homelessness is out of control and it threatens the quality-of-life in and around our neighborhoods.

So, let’s take a look at the initiatives that the county is talking about in their budget message to the likes of us and our neighbors.

First, the Courtyard Transitional Shelter in Santa Ana. It sounds like a lot more than an abandoned bus terminal with a few tarps, tables, chairs and such, but that is exactly what it is. The county owned the high rise building above and someone else owned the ground that the building rested on.

Years ago John Moorlach (left), a county supervisor at the time, thought the abandoned terminal would be a good location for a homeless shelter. The rest of the supervisors thought he was crazy. Years later the county purchased the bus terminal which makes sense seeing that they owned the building above it, but it wasn’t until last year that Andrew Do (below right) put his political career in jeopardy by proposing that a shelter could be built there in one month. Today what you have at Courtyard is a temporary homeless shelter built in a month. But, the real value of the Courtyard is that it is a place for homeless people to begin the path to not being homeless anymore.

The Courtyard facility represents a place where homeless people can be connected with resources and services and possibly with housing. The county may own the facility, but all of the work with the homeless is performed by nonprofit organizations who rely on federal funding and donations from the private sector.

Of course, there is no housing available for the homeless thanks to the lack of investment in affordable housing on the part of the County. The Courtyard also provides a place for about 300 people to sleep on mats every night. The concrete is hard and it gets cold at night. This was the first county asset that was ever created for the purpose of ending homelessness. It opened in summer of 2016.

It’s not to say that this county facility meets the needs of homeless people living at the civic center because less than 1000 feet away is another homeless encampment near the County Courthouse where an estimated 250 homeless people call home. I took these photos last week, on May 19, 2017:

Next, the Bridges at Kraemer Place. This was supposed to be the first county asset to serve as the first permanent year-round homeless shelter. After several tries over several years to establish shelters in Fullerton and Santa Ana without success, the county chose a location in Anaheim next to an all-nude strip club.

NOTE TO NIMBY’s: It’s difficult for any neighborhood to credibly oppose the presence of a homeless shelter if the neighborhood does not first oppose the presence of a totally-nude strip joint. Just so you know.

Everyone celebrated when the BOS approved the shelter, but for some reason the county did not make it operational until only a few weeks ago. It took them more than 18 months to open the shelter and then when they did, only beds for 100 homeless were made available with the additional 100 beds not to be available until next year.

As you will often see, the county takes all of the credit for making the Kraemer shelter happen.  In reality the City of Anaheim put a ton of effort into the planning of the shelter, not to mention $500,000 towards the initial cost. Fullerton contributed $500,000, La Habra $150,000 and Brea contributed $100,000.

I wonder how people feel about their cities’ contributions when they paid full-price for half of a shelter, especially knowing that 100 homeless people are wandering their streets at night that should have been in the care of our county at the Kraemer shelter?

There are other programs that the county boasts about too, but they all are funded by federal grants and we already know that those programs will be running dry in just one or two more years time.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the county to build any new System of Care to address homelessness like the one described in the Key Budget Message.

As far as I am concerned, the county built the original system of care in 2010 and it was called the Orange County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The BOS approved this plan and they sealed the deal when they began accepting federal funds to execute the plan. Take a look at the plan yourself

You will never hear anyone speak of the Ten-Year Plan at the county because they have abandoned the plan all together. If you remember the $55M county investment that I mentioned before, the amount that the county would need to spend to end homelessness, that investment would be in the county’s own Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The mission of the plan is to “Effectively End Homelessness in Orange County Over the Next Decade.”

The vision of the plan states “A dynamic, comprehensive system of housing and services, proportionate to the need, which effectively ends homelessness,”

This is a promise made by our county elected officials to all citizens of Orange County that it would ensure that there would some day, probably between now and 2020 I would suppose, there would be no more homelessness.

In the vision it says that there would be a “system of housing and services, proportionate to the need..,” it doesn’t say proportionate to the amount of federal funding that is awarded to the county.

The problem is that our county never made a serious commitment to ending homelessness. Instead they just jumped through what ever hoops that would qualify them for the next round of federal funding and never intended to invest in its own Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness at all.

Instead of committing a couple million a year in the past to providing affordable housing that would get homeless people off of the streets today, now it would take an investment of $55M in one lump sum to get the Ten-Year Plan back on track.

When the county says no to its promise of funding for housing that would effectively end homelessness, it also says no to its promise of helping all of us to protect and preserve the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods.

The failure of the county to provide housing proportionate to the need in order to end homelessness also sticks all of us and our neighbors with the bill.

A recent study of the costs of homelessness in Orange County conducted by UCI estimates the total cost at nearly $300M yearly. This cost is to our cities and our county mainly in emergency room visits, extended hospital stays, law enforcement and incarceration and other costs pertaining to homelessness.

Key Findings of this study conclude that the cost of homelessness declines when the homeless are housed.

The study also shows an estimated yearly cost within the county would be reduced to about $42M annually if a proportionate need for housing was met as described according to the Ten-Year Plan.

The County will hold public budget hearings on June 13 and 14, 2017 at the County Hall of Administration beginning at 9:30 am. All public comments will be heard at that time.

Contact the county supervisor for your district and insist that the county follow through with its promise to end homelessness. Tell them you want them to execute the Ten-Year Plan as it was adopted by the BOS in 2010. Hold the county accountable for making the right decisions that reduce the costs of homelessness to taxpayers and preserves the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods.

  • Michelle Steel (714) 832-3220
  • Todd Spitzer (714) 832-3330
  • Andrew Do (714) 832-3110
  • Shawn Nelson (714) 832-3440
  • Lisa Bartlett (714) 832-3550


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