ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : An Appropriate Policy Ceiling
These days the job of an Orange County supervisor is not to be envied. Faced with one of the worst budgetary crises ever to hit local government, board members had the depressing task of combing through county programs looking for places to cut $67.7 million.
Many worthwhile programs were on the chopping block. But one of them, the winter shelter program for the homeless at the county’s two National Guard armories, has been spared. That is good news, indeed.
The armories are opened only when there are weather forecasts of a temperature of 40 degrees or below and a 50% chance of rain. But last year there were 33 nights that qualified, and 5,626 people showed up at armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton. Many would otherwise have stayed wet and/or cold through the night.
While there are about 700 shelter beds available in Orange County, the number is far short of those needed in an area where there is a homeless population estimated at 10,000.
In addition, most of the other shelters available in Orange County are reserved for families and single women with children. The armories’ 250 beds fill an important gap for single adults who can’t find help anywhere else.
The armory shelter program has operated for four years with the help of many community and church volunteer groups, which show up on a moment’s notice to provide an evening and morning meal for those at the shelters. Because of their support, the program costs the county only about $130,000 a year.
As Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said, failure to provide the homeless with shelter in bad weather “touches everyone’s heart.”
Because most of the county’s $3.7-billion budget is designated for state-mandated health and social services programs, however, the Board of Supervisors has been forced to consider cutting any programs that are not mandated.
It’s true that every expense must be justified during these difficult times, but it’s a relief to learn that the armory shelter program will be funded for another year.