Forty-four people who used to sleep at an overnight shelter in Laguna Canyon now have permanent homes thanks to a federal government grant.
The 44 are among 100 adults who recently moved into apartments throughout Orange County following the efforts of five social service agencies, including the Laguna Beach-based Friendship Shelter, which secured a $2.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"We have taken over 100 people off the streets," Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House in Santa Ana, said Tuesday during a news conference at Jamboree Housing Corp.'s Irvine office. "This is an exciting day for Orange County."
In addition to Friendship Shelter and Mercy House, Collette's Children's Home in Huntington Beach, the Santa Ana-based Orangewood Foundation and Costa Mesa-based Share Our Selves worked for more than a year on the project. Jamboree joined the effort by locating the permanent housing.
Federal housing officials awarded funding in January 2015, igniting a process of researching apartments, interviewing landlords and identifying eligible clients.
To qualify for the permanent supportive housing, federal standards require that a person be homeless for a year or longer or homeless four times in the past year and have a mental or physical disability. Permanent supportive housing offers long-term lodging with access to resources such as case managers.
The screening process, based on HUD guidelines, considered questions such as whether the person is likely to die if left on the streets, Friendship Shelter Executive Director Dawn Price said.
Friendship Shelter staffs the overnight shelter at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, called the Alternative Sleeping Location, which can sleep 45 people a night, and also provides temporary housing, meals and support services for 32 men and women at 1335 S. Coast Hwy.
"The most vulnerable are housed first," Price said. "These people impact the community the most, especially in terms of emergency room [visits] and jails. So taking them into their own home relieves a burden on the communities we serve."
Hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, police intervention and emergency shelter expenses can add up quickly, making homelessness surprisingly expensive for municipalities and taxpayers, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness website.
University of Texas researchers found that one homeless person costs taxpayers $14,480 a year, primarily for overnight jail stays, the alliance website said.
The Orange County c
lients, whom Haynes said were primarily men in their late 30s to early 40s, started moving in last August. The remaining ones settled in by late March.
Under this program, case managers periodically check on clients and emphasize the responsibilities that come with living in an apartment.
"If a property manager complains about [a client's] behavior, we're there immediately," Price said in a follow-up phone interview.
But often getting into a real home has a positive influence on the formerly homeless.
"We do find that once they have housing, they want to address other hurdles such as mental health, addictions," she said.
Rents for studio and one-bedroom apartments range from $1,161 to $1,324, according to Friendship Shelter officials.
The 44 clients, some of whom lived at the ASL for a year or longer, are housed in apartments in Laguna Woods, Laguna Niguel, San Clemente and Dana Point. None lives in Laguna Beach because rents are "much higher than HUD's fair market value," Friendship Shelter's marketing and development director, Kristin Points, wrote in an email.
"There is no credible response to homelessness that does not involve permanent housing," Haynes said. "The market economy will not produce the kind of housing we need."
Price said Friendship Shelter officials are always on the lookout for a single permanent supportive housing facility in Laguna Beach, which they proposed to the city two years ago.
Housing officials stressed that while securing apartments for 100 people is significant, much work remains to end homelessness. In 2013, there were 797 chronically homeless in Orange County, Haynes said. In 2015, the number decreased to 558.
The goal, Price said, is finding housing for a person who becomes homeless within 30 days.