Commentary: Article mischaracterized foundation-city relationship

While we live in a tranquil county surrounded by world-renowned beaches, mountains and first-class shopping and dining, it's time for Orange County residents and city officials to face the facts: We share this idyllic region with tens of thousands of homeless individuals.

This surprisingly high number is due to a shortage of affordable, permanent housing options in Orange County, in which a minimum wage worker must work 128 hours per week to afford a permanent one-bedroom apartment.

The homeless crisis will not improve unless individuals and organizations step up and take real action. Our goal needs to be to help homeless families become self-sufficient, so they no longer rely on emergency services and community resources that cost taxpayers more each year. Instead of merely trying to displace the homeless into a neighboring city, or a one-size-fits-all shelter, why not try to give these individuals the medical, job training and housing support they need to turn their lives around and become contributing members of our community?

Public-private partnerships are the solution to this crisis. However, an article recently misrepresented the relationship between the Illumination Foundation and the city of Costa Mesa ["Homeless-services group leaves city," Daily Pilot, Jan. 2].

The relationship was not contentious. Rather, the reason why the foundation exited the city was twofold. The city had other plans for the property, where a particular motel site stands, and Illumination Foundation identified there were areas of more urgent need in Anaheim and Stanton.

What makes Illumination Foundation unique is how it works closely and collaboratively with each city to best meet the specific needs of the homeless in that area. Illumination Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to end the cycle of homelessness in Orange County, focusing primarily on families, especially women with children, and on the individual needs of the cities that are most affected by homelessness. Illumination Foundation has proven that personalized, interdisciplinary services create sustained change in the lives of homeless individuals, instead of just temporary shelter.

Furthering this point, the Illumination Foundation and the city of Stanton created an innovative, cost-effective partnership last year to move away from traditional shelter models and create real change in the homeless population. At the core of the solution is a multiservice center, a hub for the local homeless and the unstably housed community to receive comprehensive services that include case management, mental health services, financial literacy, medical care, workforce counseling and children's programs.

Among the positive outcomes from the first year of the public-private partnership is the turnaround of the Tina-Pacific neighborhood of Stanton. Home to seven apartments provided by the city of Stanton for the foundation's clients, the crime rate has dropped by 4%, according to Stanton police. To date, the city of Stanton's model has successfully served more than 250 families and placed them into housing.

Since 2008, public and private donors have made it possible for more than 1,000 homeless families to receive support services from the Illumination Foundation. Individuals and organizations must continue to collaborate with our local cities to provide the necessary services to get homeless families off the streets and into housing so they no longer rely on emergency services.

This will ultimately reduce the strain on our community resources and taxpayer dollars. And most important, this will reduce the number of children we pass by every day with nowhere to call home and no idea where their next meal is coming from.

PAUL LEON is the founder of the Illumination Foundation.

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