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A public-private homeless solution in Texas might work for Costa Mesa and O.C.

A public-private homeless solution in Texas might work for Costa Mesa and O.C.
A homeless man sleeps on a bench near Wilson Street and Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa. (File Photo)

As Orange County officials evacuate the encampments near Angel Stadium, one would have to be extremely callous not to feel compassion for those whose situation is so dire that they have resorted to living in a flimsy tent on a riverbed.

I'm convinced that there is a better approach to homelessness right within our grasp. If you want to get a glimpse of one solution, then I have some advice for you.

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Take a trip to San Antonio, Texas.

That's what I did in January along with a contingent of 41 Orange County officials, including city council members (from 11 cities), nonprofit providers, healthcare and business leaders and state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) to visit Haven for Hope. That facility is a sprawling and bustling campus that offers housing and transformational, life-saving services for homeless men, women and children in Bexar County, Texas.

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Our group of diverse-thinking individuals who visited this remarkable place came to a consensus that is pragmatic and cuts across political lines. That is, homelessness can best be solved in Orange County with a thoughtful, integrated regional effort. Regional and integrated are the key words here.

Anaheim, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Tustin or any city, including my own Costa Mesa, should not have to go it alone. There is strength in numbers, and we need to integrate the efforts of city, county and state with nonprofits and the private sector. Let's not forget the faith-based community, which brings the power of the Gospel and a spirit of compassion to the mission.

Now more than ever, we need champions from the private sector with deep pockets and the will to get things done, as well as high-profile, courageous elected officials.

Which brings me back to the story of Haven for Hope. City officials in San Antonio realized that homelessness was more than just a social blight, it was also damaging the local economy. They decided it was high time to fix it.

Luckily, that word reached a well-connected philanthropist Bill Greehey, Valero Energy's CEO, who committed himself to solving the problem. Greehey put up $10.5 million of his own money and Haven for Hope was born in 2010.

Haven for Hope epitomizes the effectiveness of integration. Nearly every nonprofit in San Antonio that serves the homeless is present on the campus. That adds up to 142 partners providing over 300 services.

The results have been fantastic.

In January 2010, the point-in-time count found 738 homeless on the streets of downtown San Antonio. By January 2017, that dropped 80% to 148.

More than 3,835 people have moved from the transformational campus to permanent housing, with 90% of those not returning to homelessness.

In its first year, there were 3,300 fewer jail bookings in San Antonio. More than 50,000 people have received services since the campus opened.

Remarkably, city and county jails and emergency rooms avoided about $97 million in costs because of Haven for Hope. Each year, about 40,000 medical, dental and vision care services are administered to homeless men, women and children who would otherwise go without.

So, you may ask, who's paying for all this?

As part of his commitment to Haven for Hope, Greehey searched for private donors outside of San Antonio to finance the project, and 61% percent of the $100.5 million it cost to build the campus came from the private sector.

That's right, the private sector. Corporations invested in a project that is producing amazing dividends in human capital that you can't measure on any financial statement.

Whether we work together or not, we pay. The Orange County United Way and UC Irvine's recent cost study on homelessness shows that we spend $299 million annually addressing homelessness. Costa Mesa alone allocates about $1 million annually.

Other Orange County cities and nonprofits are doing great work. But we lack the integrated effort seen in Bexar County. Those efforts have substantially reduced the public cost of homelessness, and the OC United Way/UCI study estimates that Orange County would likewise save $42 million per year by housing our chronic homeless.

Haven for Hope is a true public-private partnership. San Antonio contributes $4 million to its $20 million annual operating budget, which in comparison is a much smaller proportion of San Antonio's budget than Costa Mesa spends on its Network for Homeless Solutions. The balance of Haven for Hope's budget comes from private contributions ($4 million), state government ($5.3 million) with nonprofits like the United Way and other funders contributing the remainder.

So back to our champions. Who is going to step up to fund and, just as importantly, advocate to solve the homelessness crisis that is currently damaging our communities and economy?

Orange County is a tremendously blessed and wealthy community. We have some of the world's best beaches, parks, businesses and residential communities. There must be champions in our midst who will see this as an opportunity to create a better future not just for the homeless, but for all of us.

JOHN STEPHENS is a Costa Mesa City Council member and the chair of the Association of California Cities-Orange County's Homeless Task Force.

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