The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to buy a site in Santa Ana for a year-round emergency shelter — filling what homeless advocates have long called a gaping hole in services, but also drawing ire from neighbors of the property.
Though the county operates an overnight emergency shelter seasonally — during cold weather, when nights are most hazardous for those living on the streets — Orange County relies on a patchwork of nonprofit providers to make short-term shelter available year-round.
"Candidly, the current system, if it can be called a system ... it's inadequate," United Way of Orange County President Max Gardner said in voicing his support for the measure.
For years, providers of homeless services have pushed for a permanent county emergency shelter.
Its location, however, proved to be a major hurdle.
Last September, Santa Ana became the only city in Orange County to pass an ordinance allowing for the construction of the county's 200-bed shelter and service facility.
This week, the Board of Supervisors approved the county's purchase for $3.6 million of a 23,220 square-foot industrial warehouse at 1217 E. Normandy Place in Santa Ana, with plans to build the facility there.
The shelter, which county officials said will be run by a contractor, will ideally serve as a one-stop shop for a variety of services to help the homeless find work or job training and stable housing.
According to a staff report, about $2.6 million annually would be needed to operate the shelter. The funds would be a mix of county, federal and private money.
Its doors, officials said, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
"We applaud your efforts with backing the homeless shelter," Karen Williams, president and chief executive of 211 Orange County, a help line. "Momentum is gaining to really address this issue."
But even as a string of regional stakeholders thanked the board for taking a step forward, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the site spoke out against the move, saying they didn't have enough of a chance to express their concerns to the city.
"A lot of people who live around there are non-English speakers and they're seniors," said Laura Garcia. "None of us were included [in discussions]."
A homeless shelter, they said, would attract more unsavory activity to an already struggling, low-income area near Grand and McFadden avenues, where parents worry about sending their kids alone to nearby schools, and the local park is a hotbed of drug use.
"This does not affect [any] of you guys," said Ruben Garcia, pointing at the supervisors. "See my hands? They're kind of rough, because I work hard for my kids and for my family, but I don't see any shelters in Irvine."
Audience members applauded.
Board Chairman Shawn Nelson, who saw talks to place the shelter in his home city of Fullerton fall through, said that any place that would benefit from a homeless shelter is likely to be close to schools and neighborhoods full of children.
"The Cleveland National Forest doesn't have a lot of schools," he said. "It doesn't have a lot of people either."
At some point, he said, the community must take action and trust that shelter operators will be good neighbors.
"The unknown is the scary part," he said.
Still, supervisors grilled Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos about the city's security plans.
Cavazos told the board that he had met with Santa Ana Unified School District Supt. Rick Miller to discuss safety plans for schools near the site of the proposed shelter. He also stressed that the city had undertaken a lengthy public outreach process before its ordinance passed.
"Nobody can guarantee safety, but we'll do our best," he said.
In coming months, the county will iron out details of the shelter's operation and begin a search for a contractor to run the facility.