Commentary: Use this time of year to help Orange County’s homeless population

Linda O'Reilly, 54, places a cover over her tent along the Santa Ana River Trail in Fountain Valley.
Linda O’Reilly, 54, places a cover over her tent along the Santa Ana River Trail in Fountain Valley.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The 2017 holiday season is upon us. The air is growing cooler, malls are bustling with shoppers, and in homes across Orange County, the sights, sounds and smells of the season are wrapping families in the special warmth that is unique to this time of year.

Yet for thousands of our neighbors the holidays bring no joy.

Nearly a quarter of Orange County residents live in poverty, with 5,000 of them experiencing homelessness on any given night and nearly 16,000 expected to be homeless at some point during the year.

Recent crackdowns on homeless camps are forcing hundreds back onto the streets in search of a safe place to sleep. And with county rents expected to increase almost 10% in 2018, these numbers will likely skyrocket.


As distressing as these statistics are, they disguise an even bigger tragedy: the almost 1,300 families with children who are currently homeless in Orange County.

These families live beneath the radar and are, for the most part, invisible to most of us. They lack many of the things we take for granted every day: the security of a home, the convenience of a kitchen in which to prepare healthy meals for their children, and the comfort of knowing where they’re going to tuck their kids in each night.

Tragically, an estimated 26,000 children in Orange County do not have homes or stable housing.

Our organization — Serving People In Need (SPIN) — believes a home is the foundation upon which hopes and dreams are built and finding homes for families in need is a primary focus of our efforts. In 2017, thanks to the invaluable support of our donors and volunteers, we placed 143 families in housing — a 71% increase over the previous year.

However, despite our efforts, and those of other local organizations dedicated to helping the homeless and working poor, the problem continues to grow. Every day, economic realities are forcing more families onto the street, denying them the basic, elemental comforts — warmth, shelter and safety — the rest of us take for granted.

In the spirit of the season, I encourage each of you to contact one of the many local agencies serving needy families and offer your support — by donating needed items, volunteering your time or making a year-end charitable contribution.

No effort is too small. And even the most humble offering can make a life-changing difference to a family in need.

JEAN WEGENER is executive director of Serving People In Need (SPIN) in Costa Mesa.