TimesOC: Number of homeless in O.C. has decreased
Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.
It’s Friday, May 13. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.
For the last few years, Orange County officials haven’t known the full scale of the local homelessness crisis because a federally required homeless count had to be canceled due to the pandemic.
Some homeless advocates have contended that the state of homelessness in the county hasn’t gotten any better, especially considering that a record number of homeless people have died in the last few years. But this week, the county released the much-anticipated 2022 count, which found that the number of homeless people in Orange County has decreased by about 17% over the last three years.
During a press conference, county officials praised the results of the count and said it was emblematic of the hard work of the county, city governments and nonprofits. However, they acknowledged that there is much more work to be done to solve the local homeless crisis considering that there are still 5,718 homeless people in the county, according to the count.
“The takeaway today is good news, but that we still have some work to do,” county Supervisor Don Wagner said during the event.
Doug Becht, director of the county’s Office of Care Coordination, said the county is seeing encouraging numbers among unsheltered veterans, young adults and seniors, with each population decreasing since 2019. However, he said that while the numbers may be decreasing, the homeless situation in the county has become more complex as many of the people on the street and in the shelters are older and have mental health issues or other disabilities.
The county saw an increase in the amount of homeless people struggling with substance use issues, a physical disability, mental health challenges and people who are victims of domestic violence.
“This trend tells us that people experiencing homelessness are doing so with a greater complexity of needs, and that our system needs to continue to evolve to be better equipped to address those needs,” Becht said. “I anticipate this to be a continued focus of the Commission to End Homelessness and the Continuum of Care board, ensuring that policies and funding are geared towards not only connecting people to services and housing they need, but also providing these people with greater assistance in navigating and coordinating our service system.”
Father Dennis Kriz, a local homeless advocate and pastor of a Fullerton church, is skeptical of the county’s report.
During a phone interview after the event, Kriz said the decrease in the homeless count could be at least partially related to the record number of homeless people who have died in Orange County over the last few years. Kriz, who tracks the monthly deaths of the homeless for the Voice of OC, said the homeless death rate per month has more than doubled since 2019.
“They were flatly cheering the decrease, yet they made no mention of the fact that a lot of people died,” Kriz said.
The O.C. Streetcar, a 4-mile light-rail system, was seen as an answer to traffic woes and local pollution when it was first proposed. But business owners claim they have suffered significant revenue losses since construction began earlier this year. My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote this week that county Supervisors have approved aid for the Santa Ana merchants. This comes weeks after the city created its own $1.5-million in economic aid.
A devastating fire fueled by intense ocean winds tore through at least 20 homes this week in Laguna Niguel. Shortly after the fire began, it ran up a canyon before burning homes and causing hundreds of residents to flee. Authorities were investigating the cause of the fire on Thursday when Southern California Edison issued an initial report to state regulators saying that “our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire,” wrote reporters Hannah Fry, Luke Money and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde. Some of California’s worst fires have been caused by damaged power lines, but it isn’t yet clear if that is the case in the Laguna Niguel blaze.
Cases of COVID-19 are increasing again in Orange County as the summer tourist season nears. According to reporter Lilly Nguyen, the trend is similar to Los Angeles County, where officials are concerned about the growth of the virus in schools and businesses. Furthermore, County health officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said this week that the number of cases may be underreported due to the use of at-home antigen tests, which aren’t reported into the county. “Cases are likely rising from a combination of factors including but not limited to decreased practice of preventive strategies — reduced use of masking, distancing, hand hygiene — waning immunity and increased gatherings,” said Chinsio-Kwong.
Newport Beach police are investigating a crash that killed three people and put three construction workers in the hospital. Reportedly, a Tesla was being driven on Coast Highway when it struck a curb and ran into construction equipment. Three people were found dead in the vehicle. Police are asking people with any information about the crash contact Newport Beach police traffic investigator Austin Laverty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Black man who was beaten by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy on camera will receive $250,000 after county supervisors approved the settlement this week. The man who was beaten, Mohamed Sayem, was punched in the face several times by a deputy and taken to the ground. Video footage of the incident eventually sparked uproar among county activists amid the ongoing national reckoning with police violence.
LIFE AND LEISURE
City of Hope opened a healing garden at its new Irvine campus as a way for cancer patients to cope with the illness. During a grand opening event, more than 100 cancer survivors and their families planted shrubs and perennials, small cape rush, California poppies and many other types of vegetation. My colleague Matt Szabo wrote that the healing garden will provide a calming space for patients during their cancer journeys. “It’s really special,” said Marisa Thalberg. “Planting is so symbolic, this idea of putting something in the earth and then letting it flourish again and find life.”
A six-day concert series will shine a light on artists and local businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. More than 20 Southern California bands are taking part, including Flashback Heart Attack, Matt Costa, Rebel ShakeDown, Hot Rod Trio, David Rosales and others, wrote reporter Sara Cardine. The event, OC Live, is being presented by county Supervisor Katrina Foley, who is using funds from a countywide arts-related grant relief program.
Fullerton’s Muckenthaler Cultural Center will showcase Korean American artists with its newest exhibit, “Embrace.” The show, which runs through June 3, includes photography, textiles, ceramics and paintings. My colleague Sarah Mosqueda wrote that the exhibit will specifically seek to highlight women artists in the Korean American community and emphasize inclusivity. “We’ve been isolated for so long and now we are together, and artists have a kind of responsibility,” said the show’s curator, Sunook Park. “Art… is a visual communication. I think having this show together with community artists is really engaging in conversation with each other.”
The Angels’ bullpen has been lighting it up this season, which is a far cry from where it was last year. This week, reporter Mike DiGiovanna wrote about the camaraderie forming between the team’s pitchers, which is exemplified in the locker-room campfires that the teammates light up after home victories. “It’s kind of a cool thing to celebrate a win, you know?” said Ryan Tepera. “We all enjoy sitting by the fire and having a couple of drinks and reminiscing, talking about whatever, enjoying the company.”
Speaking of good pitching, the Estancia High School baseball team has surrendered just two runs through its first two playoff games. Recently, pitcher Trevor Scott struck out six batters in a complete game, wrote my colleague Andrew Turner. Estancia, which is in second place, will go up against Hesperia Christian in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Newport Harbor girls’ lacrosse team defeated rival Corona del Mar this week to advance to its first CIF final matchup. In claiming the win, Newport Harbor relied on its bread and butter — maintain possession. Reporter Scott French wrote that the Sailors permitted their archrival almost no time with the ball during the game. This was all the more impressive considering Corona del Mar was the defending CIF Southern Division 2 champs.
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