Drug-Free Anaheim? Skip the police if you want: to hell with City Net, call Mr. Womer!


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The jolly Mr. Womer with his boss at Social Model Recovery Systems.

“Drug-Free Anaheim” didn’t sound like it made any sense when we first heard about it – $400 grand to the Anaheim Police Department, for folks who’ve gotten tired of their drug addiction to voluntarily turn themselves in to the police and get a free ride to a rehab center?  Like, how often is that scenario gonna happen?  The briskly honest Deputy Chief Julian Harvey agreed: “Yeah, I don’t really understand this thing,” while the more politically minded Chief Quezada insisted, “You two would appreciate this if you had a kid with a drug problem.”

Turns out it’s a little different from that.  To begin with, the money has been $82,000 for the first year – $400 grand was the upper estimate of what it could be for four years – and the money does not go to the APD, but to the highly regarded rehab company Social Model Recovery Systems, which won out with the best of three competitive bids.

A couple months ago, Mr. Colin Womer, who runs the program in Anaheim, showed up to a council meeting and complained, “I’m not getting enough work!  I’m not getting enough referrals!  Please send more people who want to get off drugs my way.”  Common sense suggesting that folks on drugs don’t generally feel comfortable going to the police for help, both me (piping up out of turn) and the Mayor asked, “What is your direct number?”  And he gave it:  714-357-2841.

Recently I gave Colin a call and he’s pleased with how business has picked up, but he can always take in more Anaheim people who want to save their lives!  He is currently helping 53 Anaheimers get off drugs.  Did any come through the police department?  Yes, in fact, 30 of them.  I express surprise, and he says, “Well, they were that desperate – their desire to get clean was stronger than whatever fear they had of the police.”

Deputy Chief Harvey assures me that drug addicts who want to get clean need have no fear if they want to turn themselves in at APD and get a ride to Mr. Womer – it’s not a trap and they’re not going to be fingerprinted or arrested.  Two caveats though – if there’s already an outstanding warrant out for you, OR if you are so damn high on something that the police judge you to be a danger to yourself or others, you WILL be arrested.  Again, Womer’s number:  714-357-2841.

Segue to the Homeless and City Net’s Failings

We’ve all pretty much noticed that many, perhaps most, of our homeless population have either drug and/or alcohol problems – sometimes those caused their homelessness, sometimes it was the other way around.  I asked, and Colin replied that about HALF of his 53 clients are homeless.  A couple weeks earlier he had told my friend Wes Jones that he’d been trying to call City Net for weeks and they wouldn’t return his calls.  

That’s City Net mind you – the huge nonprofit that Anaheim partners with to supposedly cover all its homeless issues, City Net that holds together a collaborative of an amazing 140 nonprofits to deal somehow with the city’s 800 homeless people-and-growing.  (Suggesting a sort of Polish joke, “How many nonprofits does it take to…?”)  A no-brainer, you would think, for City Net to hook up with the group paid to help Anaheim druggies get clean.  But it took them weeks to get back to Colin.

By the time I called Colin, they’d finally gotten in touch, and he’d gone on a “ride-along” with them – with them and the APD’s homeless liaison team.  That’s another thing – while advocates like Lou Noble, Tim Houchen, Josh Collins and many more of us go among the people and earn their trust, City Net doesn’t take a step into the communities without the protection of the feared Liaison Team.

I’ve got two more criticisms of this group:  while we independent advocates (including the People’s Homeless Task Force) fight to end or at least modify the city’s cruel and unconstitutional anti-camping and storage ordinance, we found out by accident – a councilmember actually let it slip – that City Net has been lobbying, secretly and behind the scenes, to KEEP the ordinance.  And why?  Because – and this is from them – if the homeless are allowed to camp unmolested, they will be that much less likely to ask City Net for help.

That sure sounds like City Net’s main priority is not the people’s health, lives, comfort or dignity, but Keeping City Net Necessary.

Also, as many have noticed, and even the credulous City Council is starting to suspect, many of their numbers just don’t seem to add up.  Much more on that topic in the near future.

City Net’s claims on Anaheim’s city website.

To segue one last time, City Net could redeem themselves by helping us advocate for, and find space for, one or more walled, supervised, $100 space-rent, tent city where the homeless could live in dignity with showers, storage, (relative) safety and privacy, and a mailing address – as in Nancy West’s “Al Fresco Gardens” concept.  Much of the Council is already on board with that, we are only looking for the perfect location(s).

Professional NIMBY demagogue Matt Cunningham did his best to drum up a crowd of hostile homeowners for last night’s meeting, folks who would complain about the blight of homelessness and advocate to keep the anti-camping ordinance as it is.  Maybe seven or eight showed up.  In deference to them, in my speech I emphasized how Al Fresco Gardens would address most of their concerns as well as ours.  None of us want to see people forced to live on the streets, but they’re not going to vanish into thin air or move to the desert either.  They shouldn’t have to go to the bathroom on your lawn.

Oh, and if you’re sick and tired of being on drugs and are ready to kick, call Colin Womer at 714-357-2841!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.