How Lawsuits are Forcing Cities to Face their Homeless Issues




If you’ve subjected yourself to reading any of my articles regarding homelessness, you might have perhaps noticed a tone reminiscent of Paul Revere on the very night that he rode through New England warning colonists of the impending invasion of the British Army.

My message is to the taxpayer here in Orange County. I base what I share with you on fact and from experience having been embedded with the same individuals, organizations and entities of government that are the primary policy and decision-makers regarding local homeless policies in Orange County.

I do not stand to gain financially or politically for conveying this message. No one has asked me to nor am I obligated in any way to deliver this message. I do so on my own free will. I am a resident of Orange County and a formerly homeless man with concern for the preservation of the quaility-of-life of our communities and the welfare of the persons’ experiencing homelessness here.

I would like to direct your attention towards an article published on Thursday in the OC Register regarding the settlement of a law suit that cost the City of Fullerton more than a million dollars recently. 

This is an example of what I have been saying for a while – that our county and cities have not done enough to stay in front of the homeless problem. In fact, in some ways our county and cities are part of the problem.

The choice of local government in Orange County is to ignore the situation, or to employ policies that criminalize being homeless, and to displace persons experiencing homelessness from one place to another without providing the necessary and most basic means for survival or even a place where they could legally exist.

These lawsuits are painfully expensive to municipalities, and they seem to be the only solution that we homeless advocates have to hold our county and cities more accountable and more responsible for developing adaptive policies at the present time.

It is unacceptable that taxpayers should shoulder the avoidable expense of litigation as a result of failed policies created by the very same officials that constituents, like you and I, have elected to office with our trust to protect our best interests.

It is important for taxpayers to understand that it is the intention of our federal government that  homelessness comes to an end in America.

There are many federal regulations that are attached to the millions of dollars of funding that the feds dish out to counties like our own in order to meet the goals.

Orange County has received more than $200M since 1996 and just last year alone received $23.5M.

In the past twenty years the feds have gathered tremendous data regarding homelessness in order to determine the causes of homelessness and how it can be solved.

The government shares this information freely to the counties that apply for federal grants, including information regarding policies proven successful in other counties elsewhere. They have strongly recommended in the past that those counties that accept federal funding adapt these successful policies known as “best-practices.”

A couple of years ago the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began implementing performance measures as part of the application process for county’s seeking federal funds for ending homelessness for the very first time.

The reason behind this idea was to weed out low-performing applicants that were not in compliance with the guidelines put forth by HUD and not sufficiently implementing best-practices. These low performers would be penalized with reductions in funding so that other county’s showing progress and demonstrating compliance could receive additional funds.

Orange County is a low performer and its records show that it has been able to slip through the cracks in the past by living up to federal standards by appearance only.  An example of that is our 10 Year Plan

This is the first requirement for counties to receive federal funding. They must adapt a plan and show that they are using federal funds to execute that plan. My copy is dated 2012. The news media reported recently that it was put into action by the county in 2010.  But if you read just a few paragraphs into this mammoth-sized document it will tell you that it was implemented in 2008. See for yourself.

During the past year, it was determined by homeless stakeholders that critical mass had been reached in the 10 Year Plan and it was deemed impossible to reach goals that Orange County had previously committed to in order to continue receiving funding year-after-year.

I imagine that the failure to execute its own plan for ending homelessness will be subjected to more scrutiny by HUD in upcoming rounds of applications for federal grants.

Our county is like a young high school student who was informed on his first day of school of a term paper that would not be due until a week before graduation, but then doesn’t begin working on it until the night before it’s due. This is how irresponsibly our county has handled the homeless problem that has grown so increasingly visible, while at the same time has received record amounts of federal funding.

Every other year, a survey of the homeless populations is conducted on one night in cities across America. It’s called the Point in Time Survey (PITS). It was just held a few weeks ago on Jan. 27, 2017. The results of the bi-annual survey will be revealed in a congressional report in mid-November called the Annual Homeless Assessment and Report (AHAR). What is contained in that report to congress will directly influence the amount of funding that our county will receive in the next round of grants from the feds.

One of the questions on the next application for federal grant funding will be regarding how our county has been reducing the criminalization of homelessness since the last report. This is important because the feds know that camping ordinances and displacement of homeless people actually perpetuates homelessness.

Orange County has not done anything in this regard. In fact, they can’t even be trusted to make sure that cities like San Clemente are compliant with state law by designating places within the city where a homeless shelter might exist if only in theory. It is complete dereliction of duty that our county continues to demonstrate its disregard of federal and state laws.

Am I sounding another alarm?

You bet I am. If you are a taxpayer in Orange County you have been fleeced by your civic leaders. They have taken substantial amounts of federal funds and your tax monies at the same time with nothing more to show for it than huge increases of visible homelessness.

There is now great concern that future funding will be decreased if not cut off entirely.

The feds have decided to hold places like Orange County more accountable and more responsible with greater expectations of reducing visible homelessness.

Should we as taxpayers not do the same thing?

Can you imagine getting stuck with the cost of cleaning this mess up if federal funding is unplugged?

In Orange County, the cost to local governments has skyrocketed while the problem not only continues to persist, it increases dramatically. Each year your police chiefs ask for more money to combat homelessness by continued enforcement of laws that the federal government has determined to confound possibilities of solving the problem at all.

In August of 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a statement regarding Bell vs. Boise, a case tried in federal court in favor of two homeless men in Idaho who were given camping citations when there were not sufficient amount of shelter beds available that would allow them an alternative to sleeping outdoors.

The DOJ cited that such enforcement was indeed in violation of the men’s civil rights.

More and more, the courts are deciding in favor of the homeless. Often cities are settling out of court with large sums of cash rewarded towards providing remedies that might allow more people to escape the condition of being homeless as in this case from Fullerton

Initially, there was a disclosure agreement in this settlement that prevented me from sharing this information with you. I was even contacted by attorneys telling me to remove a secret link from my website to the document. The link was not available to the public on my site, but nonetheless they did find it and did admonish me to remove it.

I feel safe revealing this fact to you now because it was blasted all over the OC Register earlier today.

What does this mean to our cities, like Fullerton, for instance?

I’m not really sure yet. But, I predict there will be more lawsuits against our county and our cities in the near future.

About Tim Houchen