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United Way launches new homelessness initiative in O.C.

United Way launches new homelessness initiative in O.C.
UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman speaks during a campus event Wednesday to launch Orange County United Way's United to End Homelessness initiative. “We are going to help because we are a smart, decent and caring community,” Gillman said. (Photo by Bradley Zint)

Orange County United Way launched a new homelessness initiative Wednesday with goals of identifying permanent housing locations and unifying the county to address the issue.

Hundreds of area politicians, business leaders and nonprofit representatives attended a kickoff event at UC Irvine for the initiative, called United to End Homelessness.

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The effort seeks short- and long-term housing for homeless people and to analyze data on the extent of homelessness, where homeless people are and details on their specific needs.

The initiative will be aided by a leadership council whose members are from area businesses such as Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Ware Malcomb, Kaiser Permanente and FivePoint Holdings LLC. The council also includes Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and representatives of nonprofits like the Orange County Community Foundation.

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“The time is right for us to act together … as a county, not as 34 separate cities,” said Sue Parks, president and chief executive of Orange County United Way. “These people are not problems; they’re people who have problems. It’s a distinction in language, but it is a very important distinction.”

UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said, “We are going to help because we are a smart, decent and caring community.”

He noted how the university recently completed a study — commissioned by UCI, Orange County United Way and Jamboree Housing Corp. — that examined homelessness-related expenditures countywide.

The study estimated that between 2014 and 2015, government and nongovernment agencies spent nearly $300 million to address homelessness, far more than permanent supportive housing would have cost, the study said.

It also concluded that Orange County’s homeless population was composed primarily of American citizens who are long-term county residents. Their homelessness was generally caused by job loss and insufficient income exacerbated by the county’s high cost of living and by family issues such as domestic violence and dysfunction.

The study estimated that 17% of homelessness had causes related to mental health and 13% to physical problems.

Robert Morse, aka “Santa Bob,” talks Wednesday during a homelessness initiative launch event at UC Irvine. He described his recovery from homelessness.
Robert Morse, aka “Santa Bob,” talks Wednesday during a homelessness initiative launch event at UC Irvine. He described his recovery from homelessness. (Photo by Bradley Zint)

A group from Orlando, Fla., told guests at the launch event how its efforts cut the rate of homelessness by 50% in three years through regional collaborations and a housing-first model.

“We are managing homelessness now instead of it managing us,” said Andrae Bailey, former chief executive of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.

Robert Morse, aka “Santa Bob,” became homeless after losing his job at a cab company that closed. After using the check-in center at the Crossing Church in Costa Mesa, he eventually pulled himself out of poverty, he said.

Morse, who received a standing ovation from the crowd, said he never dreamed of being homeless. All dream of something better, he said.

“Today in this room, among all of you, is the power to change many lives,” Morse said. “I’m just one success story. There are hundreds of others out there waiting to be told.”

After the presentations, guests chanted “I’m in!” and signed a proclamation of their dedication to the cause.

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