HomeAid Orange County

The Skeptic’s Biggest Question…“Can Homelessness Be Solved?”

November 03, 2015

The Skeptic’s Biggest Question…“Can Homelessness Be Solved?”

A Public Sector Perspective by Karen Roper, Executive Director of the Commission to End Homelessness

Can we end homelessness in Orange County? The simple answer is YES! Ending homelessness requires a strategic plan, hard work, laser focus, patience, education, and alignment of resources. In Orange County, we have a plan and resources targeted towards ending homelessness, and we are in the middle of systematically aligning these resources towards best practices and outcomes that end, not manage homelessness.

Because of the nature of our work in government, we develop a lot of plans. That is not always a bad thing. One plan I am extremely proud of is Orange County’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Unlike other plans, this is a living, breathing plan thanks to the 19 members of the Commission to End to Homelessness and the Board of Supervisors. Although Ten-Year Plans to End Homelessness were an outgrowth of the Federal government and a requirement to receive Federal homeless assistance funding (Orange County’s annual allocation is approximately $20 million), the Orange County Ten Year Plan was developed to be flexible and scalable to the changing needs of the population.

I mentioned the answer is “simple,” but the work is hard! Since the adoption of the final Ten-Year Plan in 2012, the Commission has sought to improve data to better understand the need and to right size the system towards best practices and outcomes. The 2015 Point in Time Count of the homeless provides a snapshot of the number of homeless in Orange County—4,452. Of that 49% (2,201) are unsheltered and 51% (2,251) are sheltered. To address the unsheltered need, the Plan points to replacing the seasonal Armory Emergency Shelters with Year-Round Emergency Shelters/Multi-Service Centers.

Emergency Shelters/Multi-Service Centers are one of the first entry points to ending homelessness through quick transition from shelter to permanent housing. However, the largest number of low-threshold emergency shelter beds (400) are seasonal and only open from December through April based on their availability from the California National Guard and funding availability. Year Round Emergency Shelters/Multi-Service Centers are needed given the rental housing market is so tight between high rents and low vacancies. It takes time to get homeless connected to permanent affordable housing. This piece of the Ten-Year Plan is critical to providing access centers to assess, triage, shelter, and focus on rapid transition to housing.

After months of collaboration, due diligence assessments, and community engagement, on November 17th at 11 am, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will consider the acquisition of 1000 North Kraemer Place in Anaheim for use as our first 24/7, 365 emergency shelter/multi-service center. If this project is approved, 2016 could be the year we change history in Orange County and move from 28 years’ worth of seasonal use of the Fullerton Armory to a year-round emergency shelter in Anaheim!


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In 2014, HomeAid Orange County took on a larger leadership role in advocating for the Homeless within Orange County when the Commission to End Homelessness appointed Scott Larson, Executive Director for HomeAid Orange County as Chair and welcomed Bill Balfour with Bank of America and HomeAid's Board Chair to the Commission (appointed by the Orange County Business Council). The Commission provides oversight and accountability for the implementation of the Orange County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness to ensure the goals and strategies set forth in the plan are achieved.

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Can we End Homelessness? The answer is simple, but the work is hard! Ending homelessness requires a strategic plan, hard work, laser focus, patience, education, and alignment of resources.