Amidst a rising and file tide of homeless folks dying on the streets final yr, Orange County’s predominant authorities company tasked with ending homelessness rarely showed up to work.
That might be altering.
Norberto Santana, Jr.
A pioneering chief within the nation’s rising nonprofit information motion and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic information chief, uncovered the truths throughout Southern California governments for greater than twenty years and reported on Congress and Latin America. View his column archives. Send him an e-mail information tip.
Last month, I wrote that regardless of record deaths within the streets, rising homeless encampments, Covid outbreaks at homeless shelters and the shooting of a homeless man by Sheriff’s deputies after stopping him for jaywalking, Orange County’s Commission to End Homelessness solely met twice in 2020.
It’s a surprising lack of progress for a bunch county supervisors took over in 2018, arguing that their management may make a distinction.
For his or her election marketing campaign mailers.
County Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do took over management of the fee — one thing recurrently featured in each his tight re-election campaigns in 2016 and 2020 — ostensibly to get somebody in cost that understood how authorities works and will get bureaucrats working.
But on the streets, the issue of homelessness persists.
In some ways, it appears like Orange County’s effort to fight homelessness is caught.
That might change in the present day.
After my March column, it seems commissioners began to speak amongst themselves privately.
As we speak, the fee is having its first meeting of the year and it seems like there’s going to be a debate about management.
After watching stalled progress for years, there’s a frank acknowledgment among the many commissioners I’ve talked to privately that having a politician in command of homelessness is probably not the best way to go.
We’ve tried many alternative headpieces lately.
The fee was launched in 2012, again when former Supervisor John Moorlach was heading up these efforts.
When lawsuits broke out round 2015, a federal choose tried to take over.
By 2018, Do was put in command of the fee. Later, he was put in command of CalOptima, the county’s predominant medical health insurance plan for the aged and poor.
Now, county supervisors are doing victory laps publicly on their governing dais as a result of they’ve authorised just a few housing initiatives and psychological well being packages.
However there’s little acknowledgement that the difficulty persists or how robust it’s to unravel.
The dearth of progress isn’t misplaced on the commissioners I spoke to privately.
At in the present day’s scheduled meeting, there’s an agenda merchandise to elect new management.
Just about of all of the commissioners I spoke to agree it’s time for a brand new strategy, one which doesn’t depend on politicians.
Panelists face an enormous query: Who in Orange County can steer the fee?
It wants somebody who understands authorities and may prod it to maneuver — with out concern of offending delicate varieties, like Do who will get very emotional and personalizes public critiques.
If you concentrate on it, the county’s homelessness fee is meant to be a test on officialdom — a panel of neighborhood leaders who can problem the paperwork and, sure, even our elected leaders to do higher, be extra environment friendly, concentrate on the underside line of getting folks off the streets together with psychological well being and drug counseling.
Certainly, a number of commissioners privately informed me the group would possibly even contemplate altering its identify, noting that the county has develop into too targeted on a housing-first mannequin with out sufficient concentrate on the wanted remedy that may hold mentally disabled folks in such housing, safely.
Even judging the county from its slim focus of constructing 2,700 everlasting supportive housing items, the trouble appears a complete failure, solely producing about 15% of its purpose after I checked their web site in March. We printed tales again in 2018 that quoted leaders saying they’d have the job finished in about three years.
There have been nice hopes for a program initiated by the United Method to get present condominium house owners to hire to susceptible folks with authorities assist.
Whereas there’s been some motion, it’s not almost sufficient.
And judging from the Sheriff Deputies taking pictures of Kurt Reinhold in San Clemente final December — by the division’s homeless liaison deputies who stopped the person for jaywalking — we nonetheless want a ton of labor on discovering a unique coverage software for the mentally ailing apart from a gun.
Most metropolis managers who must cope with the true impacts on their streets say there’s an entire disconnect in Orange County, the place the county officers get all the cash for homelessness and do a awful job of spending it.
In the meantime, native metropolis officers are left on the streets with no actual instruments apart from police.
That’s why there’s one other quiet effort underway by homelessness commissioners, to think about altering their official focus from homelessness to psychological well being and drug remedy.
Most gamers on the bottom stage coping with homelessness will inform you that the majority of their purchasers are battling psychological circumstances, which are sometimes handled on the road with medicine and/or alcohol.
These folks want way more than simply housing.
They want psychological well being remedy and counseling. Many want drug remedy.
It’s not not possible.
There have been areas, like Utah, that did attention-grabbing issues on housing.
There are others, like Eugene, Oregon, which can be working to get a psychological well being remedy focus in the case of coping with homelessness by sending out social and psychological well being employees versus simply police.
There are some efforts in North Orange County to fund an identical effort, nevertheless it’s not clear how a lot cash goes into that program.
These sorts of packages ought to be analyzed in actual time, getting measurements and benchmarks again to bureaucrats, elected officers and the general public frequently.
That type of info spurs reasonable conversations versus low-cost marketing campaign mailers.
Orange County can do higher.
But it surely wants courageous civic leaders to put aside politics, embrace actuality and maintain us all accountable on what is absolutely working and what’s not.
So who will step up?