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Supervisors OK funds to keep Fullerton’s cold weather shelter open for 6 more weeks

Supervisors OK funds to keep Fullerton’s cold weather shelter open for 6 more weeks
The eviction of homeless people on the Santa Ana River Trail last year forced county and city officials to consider reopening the emergency shelter at Fullerton’s National Guard Armory. (File Photo)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors will spend $500,000 to keep the doors open for another six weeks at the emergency homeless shelter inside Fullerton’s National Guard Armory.

The county has historically contracted the nonprofit Mercy House to run emergency shelters at the National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana. In 2017, county officials decided to only keep Santa Ana’s emergency shelter open in the coming year. That changed in October as county and Fullerton officials started planning for a cold winter.

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“As the county of Orange continues to build a system of care, the need for interim beds for those experiencing homelessness is a priority,” said Mechelle Haines, a spokeswoman for OC Community Resources. “Because the city of Fullerton did not originally submit a formal written request, the county did not plan to open the Fullerton armory.”

Anaheim and Fullerton each contributed $500,000 to open a 200-bed, year-round shelter last year called Bridges at Kraemer Place near the 91 Freeway and Kraemer Boulevard.

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Fullerton officials agreed to fund this project to replace the cold weather emergency shelter that the city’s supported for last 28 years, said city spokesman Stephen Hale.

However, the eviction of homeless people living along the Santa Ana River Trail last year forced county and city officials to consider reopening the armory.

In the wake of a lawsuit filed in federal court that challenges the constitutionality of Orange County cities’ anti-camping laws, 13 cities in North Orange County formed the North Service Planning Area initiative to find locations for additional homeless shelters. The consortium won $12 million in state funds to acquire two open “navigation centers” in Buena Park and Placentia. Homeless individuals referred to the navigation centers by North Orange County Cities will be able to sleep, access health and job resources, and reunite with friends and family.

“As we all know, the homeless situation has become a crisis, and while the two planned navigational centers for the North Service Planning Area, in which Fullerton is a member, will not open until later this year, the City Council and other elected leaders knew that we needed to once again open the armory as a cold weather emergency shelter,” Hale said.

County staff proposed funding the additional shelter nights with about $175,000 in federal grants and about $320,000 from the general fund the county uses to cover day-to-day expenses. Supervisors approved the plan without discussion other than a brief comment from Supervisor Doug Chafee, whose district includes Fullerton.

“This is an important thing, considering the cold weather, that we have shelter available,” he said.

Fullerton’s emergency shelter will host up to 200 beds per night through April 10, except on nights when the National Guard conducts training. Visitors can expect a warm meal, sleeping mat and blanket, a shower and information on traditional housing and drug rehabilitation programs. The shelter is open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The county’s contract with Mercy House requires that it provide on-site security guards to enforce a prohibition on drug and alcohol use, smoking and weapons within the shelter.

Fullerton Collaborative, a civic-minded group of public agencies, nonprofits, and faith-based leaders has taken up the goal of finding permanent, efficient solutions to homelessness. Debra Stout, the group’s executive director, said her organization supports the supervisors’ decision to continue funding the emergency shelter as one way to address the safety and mental health of the county’s most vulnerable population.

Providing basic needs to the homeless not only reduces the trauma of living on the streets but also prevents higher costs to taxpayers and increases in emergency hospital visits, Stout said.

“As a collaborative, we believe that if shelters were not available you would see increases of homelessness residing in your own neighborhoods, parks and public places,” Stout said. “The cost of homelessness affects all of us.”

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.

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