A coalition of homeless shelters have adopted a system of self-regulation in an attempt to restore confidence in charitable organizations recently tarnished by scandal and to provide a higher level of care to Orange County’s increasing homeless population.
At least a dozen shelter organizations, which manage about 500 of the 900 beds available to the homeless in the county, have pledged to uphold a set of basic standards, from ensuring the cleanliness of bed linens to a guarantee of “religious liberty,” regardless of a shelter’s religious affiliation.
“Hopefully, the people who use our shelters will notice a new attention to basic dignity,” said Tim Shaw, executive director of the Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force.
Officials estimate that there are about 12,000 homeless in Orange County, a threefold increase since 1987.
Shaw said the guidelines were adopted in part because of recent disclosures about financial improprieties at two local shelters.
Clyde E. Weinman, the former director of Irvine Temporary Housing, was found guilty in January of forgery and embezzlement in a scheme that netted him more than $400,000 in money intended to help the homeless.
Weinman--who prosecutors said used the money to lease a Mercedes-Benz and convert his home into a “virtual Taj Mahal,” complete with sauna, pool and extensive landscaping--was sentenced this month to four years in prison.
Shaw said the credibility of charitable organizations, including homeless shelters, also was dealt a blow when reports of fiscal problems and mismanagement forced the ouster of administrators who ran the El Modena Community Center near the city of Orange.
The community center, which provided food, shelter, clothing and job counseling to the poor and homeless, reopened last month and has since provided a haven for local youths.
“Most people go into this business with good intentions,” Shaw said. “But there are some people out there like the Clyde Weinmans of the world. We want to make sure we are providing a higher level of service so that we can feel comfortable in referring people to facilities here.”
The heart of the coalition’s plan is to require each participating agency to conduct an annual audit that would review staff and client concerns, shelter conditions, health and safety operations.
Under the proposed regulations, for example, staff and shelter residents will be allowed to submit grievances about shelter conditions or conflicts within the facility to that agency’s officials. Rulings on those grievances would be required within seven days.
According to the guidelines, each shelter would offer personal counseling, job referrals, recreation activities and referral services for employment and housing outside the shelter.
When agencies are found to be out of compliance, Shaw said, the coalition would provide additional resources to those needy shelters.
“If there are people who are being mistreated, that is of concern to us,” said Larry Haynes, co-chairman of the coalition, called the Shelter Provider Forum.
“This is intended to be a harsh, harsh look at ourselves. We are holding ourselves accountable to this.”
Unless run by local or state government, Shaw said most shelter agencies operate with little regulation. “Our goal is to upgrade the level of service, not to run anybody out of business.”
It was hoped that the new rules would help the 12 participating nonprofit agencies become even more efficient in providing care since the number of homeless far exceeds the 900 available beds. Haynes said legitimate shelter agencies must work to regain the public’s confidence.
“When someone is giving us $10 of their hard-earned money, we want to assure them that it is going to a credible agency,” Haynes said. “Sometimes, making contributions to a charity can be a real crapshoot.”
Participating shelters are: Anaheim Interfaith Shelter, Anchor House, Friendship Shelter, Human Options/Second Step, Huntington Youth Shelter, Martha House, Mercy House, New Vista Shelter, Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter, Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force, Precious Life Shelter and the YWCA South Orange County.