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O.C. extends contract with embattled homeless shelter operator

Santa Ana homeless shelter
Denise Aken, 58, rests under the roof at the Courtyard, a downtown Santa Ana bus terminal, in 2016.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $1.7 million contract extension through June 2020 with Midnight Mission to operate an emergency homeless shelter in the former Santa Ana bus terminal.

The supervisors also approved a contract extension of more than $240,000 for City Net to continue providing outreach and case management services for 50 residents of the shelter, known as the Courtyard. City Net connects Courtyard residents with social and health services agencies and helps them secure more-permanent housing.

The board voted to spend more than $1.6 million to continue the WISEPlace’s operation of a women’s shelter in Santa Ana and more than $338,000 on American Family Housing’s Washington Place program for homeless couples.

“We’ve just spent millions of dollars relative to addressing the issues of homelessness, and this is something I think people need to take note about because the County of Orange is going over and above what we need to do,” board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said.

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However, the 425-bed Courtyard was criticized by the ACLU of Southern California in a 2019 report for alleged unsanitary conditions, discrimination and suppression of freedom of expression.

As the Courtyard’s operator since October 2016, the Midnight Mission is required to run a daytime drop-in center serving 400 to 750 adult guests seeking a safe place, connections with public agencies, hygiene services, showers, restrooms, meals and a place to rest. At night the Courtyard is an overnight shelter that can accommodate up to 425 individuals with foam sleeping mats and blankets.

One of the shortcomings of Midnight Mission is that staff at the Courtyard are not licensed to take care of the elderly who are dependent on others for help eating, drinking, showering and using the bathroom.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter approved a July 23 settlement of a federal lawsuit between homeless advocates and the county. Carter called the pact a model for how county governments should care for those in need of shelter.

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“The parties recognize that not every facility can reasonably accommodate every disability,” the agreement states. “The county shall make every effort to accommodate disabilities where feasible and reasonable in accordance with state and federal laws.”

Homelessness policy analyst and advocate with the ACLU of Southern California Eve Garrow said the county and Midnight Mission are in a difficult position because they aren’t equipped to provide the care required of nursing homes but can’t legally turn away severely-disabled homeless individuals. In many instances, able-bodied Courtyard residents voluntarily step-up as caretakers for their disabled neighbors, though critics say that can lead to an inadequate level of care or even mistreatment.

“... Closing programs that mistreat residents will not prevent misconduct by other providers that replace them,” Garrow wrote in a prepared statement. “Therefore, we strongly urge the county to implement system-wide policy reforms to ensure that all shelters are held to the highest possible standards.”

The ACLU is also calling on Courtyard to implement a county-level process to properly investigate and adjudicate reports of sexual harassment and discrimination by shelter staff.

Garrow added that the county needs to safeguard shelter residents’ 1st Amendment rights and prohibit the dangerous practice of evicting residents at night.

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