Day of reckoning for homeless-neglecting South County!


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Justice can not be evaded forever, even southeast of the 55.

Well, it’s about time.  As Santa Ana, Anaheim, and to a lesser degree other north County cities have been jumping through hoops trying to do their share to care for the exploding homeless population, striving to meet both their legal and moral duties, the wealthier cities of the South County (Irvine down southeast through San Clemente, with the noble exception of Laguna Beach) have done jack shit except thumb their nose at Judge Carter and whine that their “higher property values” should make them exempt from having to submit to any human blight, whether caring for the homeless or even seeing them.

These South County cities have even wondered aloud this past year if Judge Carter has any jurisdiction over them.  Well, he does now, now that the five largest cities (Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente) have been sued by the usual suspects (Weitzman, Sobel) on behalf of three new south county homeless plaintiffs; plus the Catholic Worker, San Clemente’s plucky “Emergency Shelter Coalition,” and my own “Housing is a Human Right.”  Read the complaint here.

Sure, there are NIMBYs in Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange, and they raise a huge fuss whenever a shelter is proposed or an encampment is seen … but the south County cities take this to an extreme – NIMBY saturation, Peak NIMBY.  I’ve described the OC in general (quoting my late mentor Gus Ayer) as a place of white flight dating back to LA’s Watts Riots, where frightened Caucasians flocked to hide from minorities and the poor.  In that case, South County is OC’s OC – the Orange County of Orange County.  The apotheosis of bourgeois entitlement, South County believes that through its luck and work it has earned the right to have no homeless within its borders, or to exile them elsewhere.

Actually, with their high housing prices and rents, South County is as responsible as the rest of us for our homelessness crisis – by the latest (very conservative) count 400 people, half of them from Irvine.  Over the decades they have dealt with these folks by “dumping” them elsewhere in the county, mainly long-suffering Santa Ana.  Judge Carter sternly put his foot down on that practice last year, with dire warnings.

A year ago when the riverbed was cleared and the 30-day motel stays were rapidly coming to a close, Supervisors Nelson and Do did their best to come up with the next temporary solution – clusters of large tent dwellings on County-owned land in Irvine, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Niguel.  Then-Supervisor (now DA) Todd Spitzer, in one of his most deplorable episodes, immediately undertook a fearmongering tour of those three towns, FALSELY claiming that the homeless who would be temporarily sheltered there would include many “sex offenders” and miscellaneous violent felons, and successfully whipping up popular paranoia so that his spineless colleagues Michelle Steel and Lisa Bartlett joined him in outvoting Nelson and Do.

Meanwhile some entity called “We Irvine” sent a mob of 600 Chinese-American protesters up from Irvine to the next Board of Supervisors meeting, to rally against a “tent city” anywhere in Irvine.  It was a crazy and disquieting sight, at least partly funded by Chinese-national investors in Irvine real estate, the same Chinese investors who have made a Veterans Cemetery impossible in that dysfunctional town, as they find dead soldiers equally as distasteful as homeless folks.  The proposed site in the middle of the Imaginary Great Park was perfectly suitable – far from any homes or schools, close to transportation, and on an area properly zoned “SB2.”  Even so, doting Olive Oyl-eyed Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea, who had originally helped zone that area SB2 years ago, couldn’t remember that she had done that or why.

Under orders from Judge Carter (whose jurisdiction was still at the time at least partly in question) the South County cities now undertook to find a suitable location for a shelter in their general area.  And with great fanfare they announced one – in Silverado!  Wait, where?  We’re going to need a new map, cuz Silverado sure ain’t on the one above…

As you can see, Silverado (population 2000, area code 92676) is nowhere NEAR any south OC town.  It also has no government, so geniuses like our South County Mayors figured the people there could put up no resistance to having their population expanded by 400 homeless folks.  But this plan was unacceptable in so many ways, to ANYONE who thought about it, that it just couldn’t have been serious.  THIS IS THE KIND OF PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE RESISTANCE WE’VE BEEN GETTING FROM THE SOUTH COUNTY FOR A YEAR NOW.

If there exists an overgrown man-child with a whiney baby-voice THIS side of President Trump, it would have to be Trump’s big fan Don Wagner, Mayor of Irvine and current candidate for Third District Supervisor.  Despite not having been sued yet, he did make it to a few of last year’s Carter-paloozas, sniffing that Irvine was doing all it could and had some “affordable housing” in the works – no help to Irvine folks who are destitute and unhoused NOW.  Currently Wagner is running – with campaign funds from his kleptocratic backers – ubiquitous TV ads promising to ensure that “no homeless shelters will ever be built anywhere near people’s homes.”  Well, given this lawsuit, that campaign promise of his is about as useless as his promise two years ago that he wanted to be Mayor of Irvine.

If you click here and read the 50-page complaint, you’ll thank me – it reads like a Dickens novel with never a dull moment.  Pages 9-28 tell a concise history of our County’s feckless failures on this issue over the decades.  Pages 33-35 tell the compelling stories of the three homeless plaintiffs.  Particularly valuable is the section on “Hypothermia” beginning at page 5, which I’ll quote in full, and which may be of interest to my colleagues who doubt the connection between homelessness and early mortality:

[… Deaths of homeless people in Orange County rose to 210 in 2017, with at least one homeless person dying in nearly all of the 28 cities throughout Orange County. And although the statistics for 2018 are not yet complete, a recent report released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department found that even more unhoused persons—about 250—died last year.

Based on the currently available numbers, homeless people died last year in all but one of the Defendant cities. The one exception is Aliso Viejo, which has the largest number of individuals who stayed at the ASL in Laguna Beach in 2017 other than residents of the City of Laguna Beach.

In a 2017 interview, CEO and Founder of the Illumination Foundation, Paul Leon, stated that his organization alone provided inpatient medical care to approximately 70 individuals who were living on the streets. Leon’s assessment was that 90 percent of that number would otherwise have died if they were still unsheltered and not living in the IF facility…]

Hypothermia

An estimated 700 unsheltered individuals die from exposure to the elements each winter across the country. Unsheltered individuals are at a high risk of developing life-threatening, exposure-related conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite in the winter and heat stroke in the summer. In addition to the immediate act, a person who experiences hypothermia or hyperthermia and recovers may, nonetheless, suffer lasting brain damage and impairment of other  organs, leading to an increased risk of dying from unrelated health conditions in the future. For example, frostbite may result in the loss of blood flow to extremities, resulting in gangrene, a particular threat to individuals with circulatory issues and diabetes.  https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html.

Hypothermia occurs when a body loses heat faster than it creates it and body temperature falls below 95 Fahrenheit. Hypothermia is generally caused by prolonged exposure to cold weather, wearing clothes that inadequate to protect against weather conditions and the inability to get out of wet clothes and get to a warm, dry location. See https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/hypothermia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352682. Wet clothing causes a 20-fold increase in heat loss. See The Healthcare of Homeless Persons, A Manual of Communicable Diseases & Common Problems in Shelters & on the Streets, James J. O’Connell, M.D., Editor (2004). When body temperature drops, the heart, nervous system and other organs begin to fail and, if unresolved, may lead to death.

Individuals experiencing homelessness are already at greater risk of illness than the housed population. By some estimates, the number is three to six times greater risk of illness for unhoused individuals. www.nhchc.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/01/Dec2007HealingHands.pdf.

A report by the Mayo Clinic lists a number of factors for hypothermia, all but one of which puts many unhoused persons of greater risk of developing hypothermia. They include fatigue, older age, mental illness tha t may interfere with judgment, substance abuse that impairs judgment, diabetes and other medical conditions that impact the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, and some medicatins, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, pain medication and sedatives. Id. Environmental conditions become more of a threat when the individual has a preexisting infection or sepsis. The Healthcare of Homeless Personi, Part II, “Accidental Hypothermia and Frostbite,” p. 190-91.

Southern California cities, in particular, often tout the good weather here as a draw for persons experiencing homelessness around the country, even though no statistical evidence supports that assertion. Yet, even with our “good weather,” hypothermia is a very real threat when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Although this is a baseline temperature, both precipitation and wind will lower the effective temperature and create a risk of hypothermia even when the temperature is above 50 degrees. For example, if the temperature is 57 degrees with a wind of 15 mph, the effective temperature will be 53 degrees. See https://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/html/windchillbody_txt.html. If, as recently is the case in Orange County, the night temperature drops to 37 degrees, a wind of 15
knots reduces the effective temperature to 28 degrees, well below freezing. Id.

These are the temperatures being experienced by unsheltered individuals in Orange County over the last several months. On February 17, 2019, the daytime temperatures in Irvine, Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Aliso Viejo were forecast to be around 56 degrees, with nighttime temperatures of 37-38, and winds of 10-20 knots. Orange County Register, 2/17/19, p. A17; Orange County Register, 2/21/19, p. A22. On February 21, 2019, the temperatures were one to two degrees lower throughout South County, while the winds remained the same. These temperatures are more than 10 degrees below normal, while rainfall for the month is already more than twice normal for this time of year. Id., 2/21/19, p. A22. For people experiencing homelessness, the risk of hypothermia or other serious illness is significantly increased.

The County recognizes the serious threat cold, windy and wet weather present to the unhoused. Because of the severe winter weather, Orange County opened the Santa Ana and Fullerton armories all day from Thursday, February 14 through Saturday morning, February 16 at 6 a.m, after which the armories will return to limited access hours from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

When the National Weather Service issued an alert regarding severe cold temperatures, the County government issued a notice to people to protect their pets from the adverse effects of cold weather, including hypothermia.

Dana Point still life. (Photo by the Register’s Mindy Schauer)

Jones, and Boise.  This lawsuit is alleging a lot, and asking a lot.  But at the very least Carter should rule that these South County towns are the poster children for Jones and Boise – cities that have done NOTHING to shelter their homeless should be ordered clearly and specifically that they can NO LONGER criminalize those people, ticketing, jailing or removing them for simply existing in public space, whether night or day, sleeping or not.

Whenever this case gets to the courtroom, your Orange Juice Blog will be there covering it!  See you there…

The La Palma Mayor, the Judge, the author, the legislator.

 


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.