OC Homelessness: Anaheim Residents’ Reaction Confirms the Shelter Model Needs to Be Revised (Part I)




Since the homeless shelter proposal at Kraemer Place was announced by Supervisor Spitzer, Rio Vista neighbors had asked for a meeting with someone from the Anaheim City Council, as the neighborhood’s proximity of the proposed site raised many concerns. Finally one was arranged. Not too many neighbors are on e-mails distribution lists, so this weekend I hand delivered flyers announcing the meeting. (no more flyers please…. click here and here to see what I mean…the links to other articles are indicated by the underlined words).

The walk in the hot late afternoon gave me an opportunity to hear more of the neighbors’ opinions. Most of them expressed their objection right away, not only because of the proximity but based on how they perceive the homelessness problem, mostly in terms of individual choices and life styles.

One of these neighbors said to me: “I worked hard since I was a teenager, raised a family, put my children through college and saved for my retirement. All those homeless advocates talking about the bible don’t understand that the scripture does not fill the belly, but hard work does. I earned my right to live in my house without being worried about doubtful characters roaming through the street. It is bad enough to live with our crazy homeless person, whom even the police does not seem to know how to handle her.”

homeless-connie-circleThe homeless person this neighbor is referring to is a woman who spends her days and nights wondering throughout the neighborhood , seems to be mentally confused and has caused several incidents, such as taking the mail from the  neighborhood mail boxes. She is the one in the picture sleeping in a sidewalk.

He asked me for my opinion, and I told him that I have mixed feelings. Something needs to be done, that not all the homeless are mentally disturbed, that many just need a helping hand to get off the streets, that the increasing extreme weather conditions make it harder to remain unsheltered, and that if the city is still going to continue supporting the County’s plan, the shelter should be downsized. The size of the shelter and the unknown plans to mitigate any potential negative safety impact in the neighborhood concern me.

This neighbor continued to give me his point of view: he envisions homeless panhandling at Carl’s Jr, Subway, going to the businesses that will occupy the modern Canyon industrial area being finalized, especially the restaurants. The Social Services office nearby will get even more crowded, making it harder to the new Obama-care population to use this office and to accept that the expanded Medi-Cal is not a welfare program. The overflow of homeless will move into the nearby neighborhoods, the police services will be strained, and that even a downsized shelter will attract a considerable number of homelessness. He blames Ronald Reagan, and not the ACLU, for closing down mental health facilities and pushing their residents into a homeless life. If a big shelter is needed, the best location would be the OC Great Park in Irvine. He finished our conversation by saying that if neighbors had written checks for Spitzer’s political campaign, he would’ve already met with the neighbors potentially impacted by the proposed shelter.

Although the neighborhood is ethnically and socio-economically diverse, it is predominantly white and middle class; its political preference and attitude reflects its being a safe GOP precinct. Another neighbor agreed that a small shelter would be acceptable, but he was the exception. Then I talked to a Latino neighbor, originally from Mexico, and he was doubtful. He said some of them may be “malandrines” (bad guys), but the good ones need to be helped. Then I talked with my Filipino neighbor, very active in his community at their church and he also has mixed feelings. He asked about the Mayor, as he has met him several times at church’s activities. I told him that the Mayor could not vote on the Kraemer site on the advice of the city attorney, but my neighbor was not convinced.

One of the reasons bugging the Rio Vista neighbors was that Kraemer was not the original site chosen for the homeless shelter by the city council, it was the Karcher site, in Central Anaheim. That location made more sense for the homeless population rather than a warehouse in an industrial park, as explained in this post. The only explanation given through this Orange County Register article, was that the Kraemer site was financially more advantageous than the Karcher site.

Neighbors thought that it was an obscure business arrangement, to benefit developers. What really happened was that influential neighbors quietly but effectively lobbied the city council to drop the Karcher site. In an invitation-only meeting, they presented the property values impact argument but also the proximity to a traditionally poor Latino neighborhood, off Harbor and West  Romneya, exposing their youth to additional negative experiences in an already challenged neighborhood.  (A similar argument was used effectively in Santa Ana.)

So why, even in the so-called “City of Kindness”, was the homeless shelter rejected by the Karcher’s location neighbors and why is there an increasing opposition to the Kraemer site? Many Rio Vista residents attended the large turnout meeting at the Embassy Suites on August 5, 2015. The NIMBY stigma is a factor. But rather than entering into a tug of war between advocates and residents, and based on the reaction in Santa Ana and Fullerton, an outreach educational campaign to the impacted neighborhoods should have been done. Had the neighbors been informed of the reality of homelessness, a much more productive dialogue could have taken place.

Click here for Part II


About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly. http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2013/12/caterpillars-crossing-in-a-city-at-a-crossroads/