ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: State legislators hear Orange County ideas for fixing homelessness

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Excerpted from Orange County Register

By Theresa Walker

A first-of-its-kind legislative hearing in Buena Park Tuesday covered a wide range of issues related to homelessness in Orange County, from the cost of operating emergency shelters to support for medical-based treatment for jailed addicts to the dynamics some people face for being viewed as ‘resistant’ to accepting services.

The Select Committee on Orange County Chronic Homelessness was convened on Nov. 5, by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, who was joined on the dais by three other California Assembly members who represent Orange County constituents — Bill Brough, R-Dana Point, Tyler Diep, R-Westminster, and Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach.

Also attending was Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, whose 58th District borders Orange County and includes the city of Bellflower, which earlier this year became the first Los Angeles County city to join Orange County communities that have agreed to open emergency shelters to settle a homeless civil rights lawsuit in federal court.

The 125 or so people who nearly filled the Buena Park City Council chambers included representatives of county agencies, city governments and law enforcement, homeless advocates, members of nonprofit organizations, and other constituents.

The meeting revolved around two panel discussions — one on new strategies and another on urging every city to do its part to help homeless people.

During the second panel, ex-Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez suggested cities in the county could do more if they had a promise of long-term state monies to battle homelessness. As it is, she said, cities tap into general funds to build and operate shelters.

Though state money has been set aside to help cities, Martinez noted that much of that is so-called “one-time” funding, meaning cities can’t use it for long-term projects. What’s more, she noted much of that money goes to the 13 biggest cities in the state with growing homeless populations, leaving smaller cities, such as Buena Park, scrambling to pay for services.

“Cities can not sustain the shelters with one-time funding,” Martinez said.

Earlier, attorney and homeless advocate Mohammed Aly brought up a different issue — offering medicine-based treatment for opioid users in county jails. If addicts could get medication-assisted treatment — using drugs such as buprenorphine to reduce physical cravings — Aly said they might not need illicit drugs upon release from jail. As it stands, without such treatment, Aly noted that freed addicts often resume their drug use, become homeless and commit crimes to support their habit.

Aly, who submitted a 50-page memo as part of his presentation, called for laws to support what he called the “evidence-based best practice” of providing medically-assisted drug treatment to people on the streets and in the jails.

Another speaker, Buena Park Police Chief Corey Sianez, told state lawmakers about the progress of the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force collaborative effort to address homelessness and gangs, among other things. But he noted that a significant number of homeless people — about 40 percent by his estimate — are resistant to offers of help. He added that residents who express frustration with homeless people in their communities typically are referring to that segment of the population.

Some of those people, Sianez said, might be struggling with mental health issues or continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. Others, he added, might just want to be left alone.

But during the question-and-answer session, Pat Davis of Anaheim, a member of the advocacy group Housing is a Human Right Orange County, said the issue of being resistant might have its roots in trust. Homeless people who refuse help, she said, might not believe the person offering services such as a shelter bed or a motel stay.

“You give us (advocates) those motel vouchers,” Davis said, “and we’ll get folks into motels.”