Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Freezing Out the Least of These


As the Supervisors consider replacing the Cold Weather Armories with a "year-round" Emergency Shelter, our concern for the least of these is both academically predicted and borne out by our own history, now ignored.

At a July 2nd meeting to introduce the Santa Ana shelter that yesterday became a reality, I tried to obtain evidence to substantiate the assertion "migration was not an issue."  Because the County has no emergency shelters of its own, it has only opinions and moral suasion.  No one who actually runs an emergency shelter would so attest. We have had people call from New York because shelters that rescue both pets and their owners are very rare, and 211 reported tens of thousands of unmet requests for emergency shelter. 

I reminded Ms. Roper, Chairperson of the 10 Year Plan [to eliminate homelessness] Committee at that meeting of negotiations between OC Interfaith Shelter and the Long Beach Multi-Service Center.  Several years ago, over 60% of those Costa Mesa beds were occupied by LA County residents. Migration is very real, and given this shelter's focus on Rapid Rehousing, there is a possibility that poor families whose relatives now provide couches or motel costs will cease sharing when this shelter opens.  Ask any school's McKinney-Vento rep and you can see the size of the potential problem.  When the Mercy House Redirection Program last year used congregate housing in lieu of motel vouchers, demand fell to half the prior year's statistics. 

Please understand, migration is a fact, not my opinion.  

Now I'm also worried about NIMBY, but in reverse, the nearly homeless persons who can benefit from Rapid Rehousing, virtually all of them families, will provide the only successful outcomes for the operator.  Without these families (and veterans qualified for "Veteran Rapid ReHousing") the cost of transitioning clients to un-homelessness will be astronomical. The Civic Center homeless are there because they cannot get funds from any program, anywhere, to exit.  More case managers in a multi-service center will not change that - none of the Non-Profit stakeholders who currently offer Rapid ReHousing would let someone languish if there was a current funding source to help them.  As it is, virtually all homeless funding goes to such helping employees now.
Kevin Corinth of the University of Chicago has studied migration in the utilization of shelter beds:  

"I consider a simple model where the unsheltered homeless are not strategic - that is, those who cannot secure long term shelter migrate randomly - and show that as migration increases, communities inefficiently substitute from long term shelter to emergency shelter, and furthermore, decrease the total number of shelter beds."

Where migration is non-random it increases, that is when clients are taken to the County shelter by first responders and referred by hospital emergency rooms, and exited from sober living homes and other shelters, Rapid Rehousing, described by the United States Inter-Agency Council on the Homeless as "medium acuity" resolution will have in many cases been ruled out already.  Most Rapid ReHousing goes to families.


Corinth further says "Popular mechanisms reduce the number of homeless achieving permanent housing only modestly relative to optimal mechanisms, but have significant distributional consequences, particularly harming the lowest income users."  While this shelter is by definition, popular, the lack of permanent supportive housing and the paucity of inpatient psychiatric beds will mean that most adult clients will not have any "successful" exit possible. My question becomes "Year Round for Who?"  

Nothing in the evidence or proposals in any way address or suggest, how this shelter will serve the same population seeking safety from cold weather; or how hypothermia will be addressed.  As a shelter becomes more attractive, and this one will be very attractive, people will come, as they did in the past from other cities, Long Beach in particular.  Facilities will certainly send people from all over the county; not just Fullerton, a possibility specifically denied by Supervisor Nguyen's public statements.  The proposal before the Board of Supervisors has cost data for prospective services, but after 27 years, no data whatsoever on the Armory population.  At least, that could give the Board insight over the taxpayer outcry when the cost/successful outcome is publicized.  

I begged the Supervisors,  "Please make sure that your decision to purchase a piece of property, in itself a helpful and laudable event, does not carry with it an ill-considered and unstudied decision to eliminate cold weather shelter for the most vulnerable, even for those few nights when hypothermia is probable. 

Migration and our own experience in offering hospitality on an emergency basis in Santa Ana tell us that, without a separate and proven response to cold weather, people will perish."



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Santa Ana City Council Meeting on the History of Homelessness


The history of homelessness in Santa Ana is a story half told.

Since governments are understandably loath to admit spending the taxpayers’ money on programs that don’t work and are identical to programs that haven’t worked either elsewhere or in the past, they simply do not make such admissions.  When more than one level of government is involved, the problem becomes exponentially greater; partisanship compounds the problem even more.  Worse, the careers of capable, well-intentioned people can be stymied, internally because of the psychological dissonance caused by such concealment, and externally when political tides shift unexpectedly. 

I’ve attached as an exhibit a position paper on welfare reform adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in early 1997.  Not a single principle offered involves any reform by the County; they all involve instructions with which the Federal and State governments “should” comply.  In a public meeting held soon after implementation to demonstrate how changes in OCTA routes and rates were responsive to the needs of the workforce newly caused by Workfare, I forced Director Doty to admit the County had failed willfully and utterly to comply with their own Principle 21, intended to “insure the safety of children” even by including childcare as an intermediate destination in its new routes.  Nine million dollars in funds expended upon a bevy of experts failed to produce a single point to be placed upon layer 11 of the new OCTA System map.  Then, as if such an abject failure had no bearing upon the outcome desired, childcare was simply omitted from consideration in the final plan.  This is a pattern that repeats and perpetuates itself in the Board’s dealings with both the Cities and the citizens “beneath” it.

After the closure of State Mental Hospitals, here and elsewhere, bi-partisan committees addressing the growing calamity developed the reigning government paradigm for helping the homeless: the Federal Continuum of Care (COC): Given the job market at the time, it was, unlike finding competent childcare, at least possible, if not probable.  It was a reasonable, economical way to prevent homelessness, but Orange County (OC) quit participating, largely on the principle of prioritizing tax reductions.

 The Federal COC provided for three levels of shelter: emergency, transitional and long-term, with interdependent tasks on the part of both the shelter and the guest on each level to resolve the issue that caused the problem underlying the homelessness.  To this day the COC has not been properly replaced, even though in Orange County it is broken beyond repair.  It is still the default roadmap for shelter services, even though the bridge is out between transitional and long term, and every single County emergency bed exists now only on spreadsheets circulated by the County.

Back to the future…

In that Federal Continuum of Care, during the first two weeks the guests sought work, while the shelter provided "two hots (meals) and a cot" and very little else. Guests were self-referred, and as a result, the shelter was to require only ID to make a bed available to anyone on an "immediate need" basis.  Guests were allowed to re-enter the emergency level every thirty days if they couldn't graduate to transitional.  At the very least, this officially embodied the sentiment that employment had everything to do with affording affordable housing.

During the next three months in a transitional shelter, provided real employment was secured, one could enjoy, in addition to the hots and the cot, job development, case management, and generally some flexibility regarding the rules as required by one's employer. Usually, a referral from an Emergency shelter was required to get into Transitional (plus the job) so guests with drug, alcohol and mental health problems usually got weeded out.

This is where the bulk of the social work was done, because the transitional shelter staff had to predict which employed people would be able to stabilize their social network to rejoin it.  In this Continuum, no licensed social worker (MSW) was reduced to handing out "expired" lists of shelters, nor did they offer classes in "job readiness" to illiterates.  The guests who were not only employable but additionally "socially workable" would be referred on to the long-term shelter.  The rest could try for an "extension."  Note: that’s why all the MSW’s!

 The next two years offered the real opportunity to rebuild.  Once the guest was secure (having passed probation) in their employment, the long-term shelter offered a free, shared apartment and help with groceries, with the sole requirement that the guest save 80% of their check.  Back then, 80% of two years at even minimum wages could provide a guest with first and last plus deposit, a real cell number, and maybe even a cheap car, or wiser, a monthly OCTA pass and three-months of savings as a cushion against future layoffs.  (This was before OCTA used $9 million in Workfare funds to make working by bus all but impossible for people with children needing childcare, in addition to generally halving routes and doubling rates!) 

Even reading this now seems cruelly ironic. 

Now, no one but a petroleum site remediation engineer can get a job in two weeks or less, and temp-to-hire has all but eliminated permanence in the blue-collar workplace. 

Worst of all, five years ago the Fed ceased funding the 14-day emergency program and as a result the entire Continuum of Care in the OC has no entry point.  

Likewise, there are no County-funded long-term shelters, so the opportunity to rebuild was lost.  The short ninety days now offered by transitional shelters is as clear a guarantee of failure as is counting the transition to another transitional shelter as a successful outcome.  Charging money exacerbates the problem by forcing shelters to accept those who can pay in preference to those who can succeed.  Even if most transitional programs didn’t charge $200/month or more, most homeless citizens usually have old and new accounts to settle that will require well over three months savings to resolve!

The idea that OC's entire "homeless services" program is missing the leg that does the heavy lifting has always puzzled me.  Surely the well-intentioned administrators and bi-partisan experts commissioned by Congress to develop the COC would never countenance programs that continue to collect Request’s For Proposals (RFP’s) from homeless services providers knowing that taxpayer money was being largely wasted – it would be like funding workfare routes without any provision for childcare.

In Orange County, if we’re in for a penny, we’re headed for a pound. In each case we're assured that it is meritorious to save “even one child,” and we then fashion constraints that insure that an always awaited and necessarily larger supply of funds be provided to accomplish smaller and smaller portions of an ever increasing task.  By week two, the “one Child” has left the building.

Entanglement

In management theory, this is called entanglement: the supposed rationality of marginally increasing our investment every year yields no price mechanism whereby a bid upon ending the process can occur.  It is exactly this mechanism that enabled the Emperor to purchase invisible accessories for his invisible clothes.   No one is being paid to tell the truth that nothing plus nothing is still very expensive when purchased through the RFP process when “stakeholders” help draft the RFP’s.

Instead, we are told that the basic task faced by virtually every other citizen and undocumented immigrant, that of becoming an economically viable agent in the OC's economy, is something with which the homeless need the expensive professional assistance of proven provider agencies.  Their homelessness has rendered them incapable of economic rationality, while leaving them subject to arrest as completely sane!  

Since no homeless person I've met in 20 years would opt to pay for the services of either a social worker or a case manager, not to mention a Orange County Director of Homeless Prevention, it is clear that no stakeholder that values such employees could tolerate policies that might include the enormous cost savings to be had from eliminating them and paying the homeless instead.  

 Sane or Not?

From a mental-health perspective, conservatorships are no longer granted for simple (economic) homelessness, and as a result, public policies denying the capacity or sanity of the homeless are clearly discriminatory.  To deny the homeless a role in the selection and purchase of just those services they need to exist and become un-homeless seems to me to be a forcible bundling of services that should be prohibited.  When the question of how to audit cost-effectiveness (in ending homelessness) finally comes up, voters will readily accept the necessity of rationing, especially when the entirely anecdotal nature of the OC’s “accidental successes” become apparent to all.

To Wit:  To force a competent adult to accept unwanted social services to avoid starving or dying from a lack of sleep is a criminal theft of tax dollars and an un-American, Gulag-style holdover from the time when the homeless were exclusively the recently de-institutionalized mentally ill.  

Consumers without a choice are not customers…

Today's shelter provider is not a licensed mental-health provider; homeless services are no longer largely mental-health services, and no homeless services provider with whom I'm familiar is authorized by W&I 5150 to invalidate the choices homeless persons make. Like every other service provider in our economy, shelter providers must compete for business in the marketplace order to remain relevant, or become mental hospitals.  If there is no “middle ground” in the sanity of the homeless, why should there be a moral middle ground where the white of well-spent taxes becomes the grey backwater of waste?  There is therefore, no legal justification for shelters as they currently operate.  If the homeless are not patients, they are the public – they are customers!

The Ninth Circuit Court has already held that homelessness is an involuntary condition, deserving of the same protections of race, religion and sexual orientation.  The separate and unavailable nature of services provided to the homeless, from County bathrooms to the City library, will likely fall before adjudication as civil rights issues.  The increasing and unpredictable effect occasioned by the intervention of medical professionals will soon quantify the health costs of being denied bathrooms twelve hours each day and the use of City Library computers (to obtain healthcare information and services) entirely.  Impassioned physicians working with the slighted poor make incontrovertible expert witnesses.  Taxpayers who have never seen a tax decrease (jurors) will never accept any administrator’s excuse of “lower taxes.”

I can’t admit they’re chickens cause I’m stealing the eggs…

Shelters, their employees, and the homeless are competing for scarce resources.  As a result the most highly placed shelter provider directors are largely involved in professionalizing or certifying the staff who measure and supervise the ordinary acts of eating, sleeping and obtaining housing.  Since failure is not an option in the “certified” or “licensed” professions, such shelter employees are usually charged with creating reasons and even conspiracies to explain why rational adults would willingly decline to do any of these ordinary things properly.  No one ever got fired for exiting “bad” homeless people.

The simple fact that both the funding and operating instructions for the shelter comes from the various governments (often in opposition to one another) precludes the obvious conclusion that government is to blame.  Self-preservation clouds any perception of wasteful futility on the part of the staff; it is therefore, a foregone conclusion that only the homeless are left to bear the burden of blame for a purely “personal” failure.  

There is a certain tragicomedy to watching the staff stumble anew each pay period over a conclusion even the completely insane homeless person (it happens) regards as manifestly inevitable: It's their own fault they're homeless.  It's almost as if the staff earns their unmerited paycheck as compensation for being disappointed so resoundingly, and even repeatedly, by the failure of the homeless to thrive even as they were so carefully and laboriously supervised.  The fact that such supervision, by its very nature, is unnecessary and even counter-productive is the real crisis in homelessness.

 An inside job…

When I attended a shelter providers forum with a reporter from the Register, it confirmed my suspicions is my that most of the $13 million then spent on County "homeless" programs was expended on "certified service providers" or squandered on a heavy-rotation group of pleasant families who provide "successful" outcomes for transitional shelter operators by "transitioning successfully" to another such shelter when their time is up.  Fully two hours of that meeting dealt with apportioning credit for a non-program!

No one will insist on an independent audit of (un-duplicated) outcomes across the entire continuum of care when all it would show is the obvious and era-ending conclusion that terminating the inputs and outputs of a process will lead to a cyclic reprocessing of a largely static workload.  As long as government funds are provided to "stakeholders" whose competence is assumed solely by virtue of membership in a "public-private partnership," those funds will guarantee only membership and never competence.  

The EBT Cash for Drugs Program

Every good government program depends upon adversarial processes to insure competence - homeless services lacking such adversarial audits will wastefully devolve as did the Surplus Agricultural Commodity programs of the 70's:  Crops targeted as a result of national farm policy were diverted to the poor as a replacement of expensive and wasteful agricultural subsidy programs.  That hard-to-manage program was replaced with an EBT card, which is much cheaper to [mis]manage.  The cash such cards dispense is hardly surplus.  The drugs such cash often purchases virtually guarantee the destruction of yet another generation of poor children.  Family is always best in the OC only because foster care costs real money.  It goes without saying that the County tolerates toxic parents because we’re toxic.

Apparently it is far too "unmanageable" a task to insist that EBT funds recipients provide explanations for their purchases, or that case managers who routinely budget their own monthly expenses and pay their own annual income taxes are incapable of managing that same part of their client's cases.  That would actually be useful, if impolitic. It is our County's tacit acceptance of the slow destruction of children at the hands of parents who maintain their drug habits with our tax dollars that will earn them the enmity of the voters.  

A simple solution adopted by both Los Angeles and San Diego counties could have a profound impact upon the health of our children and bring needed cash to our local economy.  It might be the only program that could reduce the dependence of the homeless upon the Civic Center.  The SNAP Restaurant Meals program would allow “Food Stamp” recipients to use their EBT cards in participating restaurants.  Inasmuch as the homeless have neither refrigerators nor 24/7 restrooms to prepare or preserve ingredients under the current program, it makes little difference that the Camping ordinance makes cooking their food illegal.  Inasmuch as every restaurant participating in the program has a restroom for patrons, it is a wonder that the County still insists that it be paid for implementing a program after the deadline for funding implementation has passed.  Like childcare, one wonders whether the Supervisors even understand the necessity for procedures long required by their own Public Health department.  A recent outbreak of Shigella, a disease caused by fecal contamination, resulted in two inspections of our kitchen and a demand for the addresses of everyone who serves in the Civic Center.  Overlooked was the obvious cause: people without restrooms between 6PM and 6AM are still environmentally aware.  Reaching for lids while fetching coffee before the restrooms open at 6AM, they dutifully replace the extra lid(s) when two or three hot-cup lids issue from the dispenser.  Likewise, culturing the bottom of stir-stick boxes would instantly promote the substitution of wrapped straws, an option we have long recommended.  Otherwise Shigella could spread and people with lawyers might fall ill.

Cash for drugs aside, let’s move, as promised, to our own County’s dealings with homeless children’s mental health.  As you read this, please understand that families that stayed at our house were given full checks, even though the County knew full well that they paid nothing for room and board.  We alone rewarded their kids for homework well done, and six years of repeated requests for CPS to safeguard children were ignored.

Our County’s million dollar theft from homeless mentally-ill children…

In December 2007, all 46 children who had lived at our house were temporarily housed with their parents at the Armory while we replaced our bathroom floor.  When, given the continued lack of supervision over EBT drug purchases, I refused Kelly Lupro's request two months later to re-house those same children of drug addicts back in my back yard, a conspiracy evolved that fraudulently diverted millions in State Proposition 63 funds rather than spending a single dollar of County money for an emergency shelter for families with children.  At one point Mark Refowitz told me he couldn’t discuss this without his lawyer being present!  A case manager told me he was afraid he was going to jail.  The Senate President Pro-Tem said it was Senator Lou Correa’s problem.   I’m still waiting to hear back from the Grand Jury and the Attorney General!  In December of 2012, I did hear back from the Director of the California Child Law Institute at USD: When these children deal with the stigma of their diagnosis in a few short years, applying either for college or for low-income housing, this issue will resurface: 

The Renew Program of Providence California Healthcare accepted one healthy child from each family as being so seriously mentally ill that the entire family qualified for food, rent and therapy, courtesy of the State.  Obviously Prop. 63 is a zero-sum game: millions accordingly did not go to families who truly needed it because of mental-illness.  

OC’s depravity makes HBO’s Lineup

HBO launched a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi (Nancy’s daughter) about the Motel Children of Orange County. Featured in that documentary was Zack Brewster.  Zack is one of the mentally-ill children whose family could have desperately used Prop. 63 funds had they not been squandered to prevent the public from seeing the Board of Supervisor's true priorities when it comes to homeless children.  

Each one of those 46 kids from our place was at grade level.  All of them had been seen by UCI Pediatrics, by MSW Interns from USC, and when needed, psychiatry residents from UCLA.  Six of them performed on stage at Carnegie Hall, making the front page of the LA Times.  Not one of them was seriously mentally ill under the definitions within Prop. 63 - I should know - I was moved off the OC Prop. 63 steering committee, ostensibly for failing to update the email address I have had for 20 years…

Beyond declining to establish emergency shelter(s) for families with children, the County simply opted out of the emergency shelter business altogether.  As the federal government ceased most of the funding for emergency shelters in the OC, the county declined to maintain those resources.  While implementing a “two-week, once in a lifetime” motel voucher program, the County simultaneously directed the Karen Roper, then Director of Homeless Services, to publicly enumerate the number of emergency shelter beds then available in the OC.

1512, then 957, and finally 547.  The real number is 0!

Inventing a new Continuum of Care that included, quoting Kelly Lupro, OC's Director of Homeless Prevention, "a coalition of all those who have a heart for the homeless," the County pretended first that there were 1512 emergency beds, and then 957, and finally 547!  Three formal, totally untrue statements that empowered OC Cities to unconstitutionally arrest 1000’s of people for “camping,” while misleading ER’s and grandparents and even city staff all over the County of Orange. 

Those poor people still believe there’s a place for crippled elders, accident victims, and families of toddlers whose evictions were illegal.  Any Supervisor asked would get Kelli Lupro to confound the issue by involving 211 – which actually tries to tell the truth!  But a direct, disingenuous answer is what we voted for, especially on so fundamental an issue.  This is why I accused Ms. Roper and the then Board of Supervisors of lying:

After an Open Government funding request, it was revealed that the only adult emergency beds funded in the OC were the six in La Habra for patients discharged from ETS, and around 180 beds funded by a $25 fee added to marriage licenses to aid in the prosecution of domestic violence.  Although the OC Cares Partnership calls these emergency shelter beds, the County correctly admits there are no "low threshold non-sub-population restricted beds" in the OC.  None – There are no county emergency beds in the OC as a matter of both design and deceit.   As of today, nothing has changed.  There is nothing except the privately funded religious hospitality houses offered by the Salvation Army and us.  The Armories are really federal Cold Weather Shelters.

OC Caught with its hand in Laguna’s pocket…

One of the most interesting aspects of this entire debacle for Cities involved the creation of the Laguna City (parking lot) Shelter.  Rather than admit the structural failure of OC's "Homeless Prevention Program," some of us heard a rumor that the OC was going to take credit for the “beds” in Laguna and simply equivocate their way around the embarrassing goose egg of total failure.  We called Laguna and promised that each person leaving the Santa Ana Armory when it closed would be given an OCTA day pass and encouragement to accept the County's invitation to relocate to Laguna.  

Laguna called the County in horror and only then was the County was forced to admit the above caveat.  It was at this point that we invited the Register reporter and 10 homeless people from the Armory to attend the Shelter Provider Forum.  As predicted, not one shelter provider in the OC could offer a single emergency bed - largely because such services are entirely unfunded.  While the County has unashamedly annually taken credit for the Federal Cold Weather Shelter Act (Armory) program, it has never extended the four-month effort by a single month.  Nor the corresponding County Redirection program for families with children, which provided a motel voucher which was often used to house parents with proclivities toward drug, spouse and child abuse.  Recently, funding cuts and competition have forced the County to house such families communally in a church setting.

A song and dance about saving our future…

Even that Redirection Program, capably run by Mercy House and credited with "saving our future" by Boardmember Nguyen was not important enough to be funded the other eight months of the year.  Perhaps "Truth in Spending" could incline Nguyen to admit that we're actually saving just one third of our future: the cheap third.  Incredibly, she herself could have easily saved another third of our future had she not spent discretionary funds on a Vietnamese song and dance troupe of dubious cultural pedigree (but obvious political utility) in her district.  

It's as if we called ourselves Christian and then closed all hospital emergency rooms in order to emphasize Christ's miracle healings.  As a Christian who has seen the books, I can promise you that, except for the federal Armory program, the Salvation Army and the OC Catholic Worker, Christians here have little opportunity to become involved in emergency shelters even though the County still insisted recently that there are more than 500 such shelter beds. 

Our Crucifixion of ER Social Workers alongside the Homeless…

Now that year-round emergency shelter beds are non-existent, real emergency rooms are changing to reflect that reality.  Their almost total inability to obtain State mandated emergency shelter for those discharged from emergency rooms had manifested itself in a doubling of the death rate for homeless persons where their MSI Coverage was merely "pending."  An emergency room which cannot obtain either reimbursement for recuperative referrals or a legally-required shelter destination for a homeless patient will be understandably reluctant to treat such patients, even if they are now insured by the CalOptima Medicaid program.  

Obviously, public policy based upon the saintliness and voluntary poverty of hospital administrators and physicians is simply the most depraved form of indifference perpetrated upon the ill poor by the County’s refusal to maintain either a County Hospital (which would be required to care for Mexican citizens) or reimbursement for recuperative care given to the mentally ill and substance abusers. 

One Santa Ana hospital repeatedly bribed a homeless H-MRSA patient addicted to cigarettes with bottles of Vicodin™ if he would simply leave their ER.  The alternative was attempting to persuade him to remain in isolation for two weeks without contaminating everyone else while he sneaked off to have a smoke. Public Health finally had to confine the patient legally at UCI until the infection was resolved.  The H-MRSA infection has closed hospitals all over the country; so the idea of bribing a human source of deadly contagion by doping them with narcotics seems to me to paint a much truer picture of the kind of healthcare the OC's public policy decisions have earned us.  The rats leaving our sinking ship have the plague, and OC's healthcare policies simply don't provide ongoing coverage as a matter of "principle."  

A suggestion: stop the SAPD from herding the homeless toward our houses!

Given the ongoing fraud perpetrated upon the homeless and the City of Santa Ana by the County of Orange, we now ask the City Council what provision the current City plan makes for the homeless.  Now that the County has officially admitted that there are no "low threshold, non-subpopulation restricted emergency beds in the OC" it might be time to reconsider Santa Ana’s application of the Camping and Storage ordinances

The decisions in Tobe vs. Santa Ana, or Jones vs. LA should incline all OC Cities to cease the cruel fiction of arresting the homeless for "camping" on public property.  No real defender of private property rights could condone the alternative: trespass upon private property.  Like the emergency room in the example above, however, police are often pressured to "evict" the homeless from public property to decrease their visibility, resulting in a very real increase in contagion and crime in the very neighborhoods the police are sworn to protect.  

Like Laguna, cities really cannot obtain a defensible definition of (non)residence for particular homeless persons.  I begged the ACLU to stand down from a lawsuit in Laguna that was to challenge a similar definition - I proposed that the wiser course was to share such concerns with City government while trusting in the City Council's ability to evolve a solution it's voters would continue to fund.  Now that the ACLU has established a Santa Ana office, I’m both certain and grateful that my influence will no longer matter.

 The homeless deserve what we cannot afford.  Give them free parking instead.

In the past, Santa Ana ceded a basement floor of a parking structure to create a "bantustan" where the homeless were denied needed public safety services.  The disorder that followed as sure as night follows day was, of course, blamed upon the homeless, and used as Santa Ana's rationale for the "tested" camping ordinance it copied from the National Park Service.  

That an ordinance intended to keep vacation reservations at Yellowstone or Yosemite safe from overcrowding would be used against the homeless is morally problematic.  Such ambiguity on the part of Santa Ana City government drives a wedge between the homeless and community-oriented policing efforts and contributes greatly to the difficulties inherent in counting the homeless or carefully assessing their situation in order to quantify their public policy needs.  

Everyone involved in the annual PIT process knows that the count is deeply flawed and that the adjustment needed to make the numbers grow to respectable levels is political and not statistical in motivation.  No city can simultaneously arrest and enumerate the poor.  Asking the police to act as either social workers or trash collectors debases their status as those who honorably defend and serve the safety of all people, and impairs their ability to develop the sources among the homeless that make traditional policing possible.

We propose that the City allow the homeless the use of parts of those employee-parking structures purchased with low-income housing funds, but only from 6PM to 6AM.  By reserving a few parking spaces as a storage area fenced and locked from 6AM to 6PM, we might avoid the spectacle of great mountains of personal belongings wrapped in turquoise bags that have so offended public sensibilities.  If porta-potties were lined up at the back of such storage areas, restroom traffic would insure that people storing their belongings would collect them.  A simple surveillance camera trained upon the porta potties and the belongings could assist in the certain conviction of thieves and those using the restrooms for prostitution.  The County isn’t going to help them, ever.

People unprotected by shelter need police badly.

The primary complaint I hear from the "sane" homeless is an absence of appropriate police intervention.  Every Sunday I have to fund the reacquisition of California ID's for 10 to 15 of my guests: nearly 5% of the Civic Center homeless experience identity theft on a weekly basis!  Any talk of encouraging such persons to work on their resumes is simply a cruel conceit.  Also stolen are their cash, phone, blankets, even their life…a few years ago an SAPD officer told a homeless woman that they could no longer afford to investigate rapes among the homeless, just like fender-benders among the undocumented.

A program apparently recently terminated, that of taking un-abandoned belongings because a particular homeless person has “too much stuff,” was a profound impediment to developing a pro-police attitude among the homeless.  Or the Bar.

The 10 year plan is a fraud plagiarized from Minnesota.  Wrong city, wrong plan.

Santa Ana, along with every other City in the OC, is still waiting for their part in the County's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in Orange County.  

Moreover every City in the OC (except Irvine) contributed greatly to the problem of homelessness by spending low-income housing funds on everything but low-income housing.  In Santa Ana, such funds were diverted at the U.S. Cabinet level to complete the construction of a palatial City jail intended to profitably house "stateless" deportees.  The OC variant of the nationwide 10-year-plan [copied from Minnesota] still has no funding and no dedicated administration, so it's really just a pipe-dream, and not a plan.  

The idea that an executive capable of eliminating homelessness in the OC would even grace such impolitic plagiarism with a perusal strains belief.  The political environment of Minnesota is liberal and Lutheran; we could have done far better by stealing a successful plan from a City with conservative mega-church attendees.  

The idea that the Board would constrain any executive to the budget-less execution of such an irrelevant document demonstrates their utter lack of support for the position.  Any competent executive with OC public policy experience would decline.  Any City with real homeless experience will encounter only the lip-service of County self-preservation.  

The Board passes the Buck…

Now all the Board needs is to do is blame the plan's failure on a lack of cooperation by the very cities it never included in the planning process.  Inclusion would have to provide an accounting for the costs cities have born because of the County’s inaction, but it won’t.  Lied to, the cities will likely blame the homeless who interestingly enough, share the exact same position: financially un-included and allegedly uncooperative.  

Recently I sat through a Board of Supervisors meeting with the father of Kelly Thomas, the Mayor of Fullerton and a reporter from the Register.  As two of the Supervisors congratulated themselves for their humanitarian intentions and progressive politics, we watched in dismay as they denied and virtually denounced a completely reasonable request from the Mayor to afford him a “few weeks to develop support within the community.”  I told the reporter that the Fullerton shelter was thereby doomed and recounted as an example my own experiences in thwarting the legitimate public policy concerns of our own Mayor Pulido.

Nevertheless, even taking the same people who bungled the last twenty years of smaller non-plans at their word, our Plan did not intend to provide a single emergency bed until 2013, and it failed predictably at that. Armory beds are funded by the Federal Government, despite the clamor of the some Board incumbents to take credit for them. Simply put, at least for Homeless 101: Orange County, as a County, provides not one ordinary, 1993-style emergency bed; not for the sick, nor for families with toddlers or infants, not for single women or men, not even for grandmothers who worked their whole life caring for others.  I would suggest that the very last thing we should do is to allow such administrators to "save our future."  People actually die of exposure in summer too!

It takes a County paycheck (or an MSW) to pretend that an ever larger, ever younger (and older crowd) of poor is somehow benefitting from an increasingly irrelevant expenditure of scarce resources on criminals and drug addicts and social workers.

Common Ground

The fact that so many other cities refer and transport their homeless to Santa Ana coupled with the fact that many of the social services the County claims credit for either don’t exist or are administered in a way that virtually guarantees litigation, I’d like to propose two avenues that have not been regularly implemented in Orange County:

First, taking a page from the Board’s own example, the City might wish to quantify just how much such County mal-administration is costing our City, and its homeless.  It would be refreshing if just one major stakeholder began to question why a responsibility so clearly given to the County by the State Legislature has been so completely dismissed.

Second, we know that you love the city of Santa Ana. Please know that we do as well, as do many of the homeless we know.  We Catholic Workers often quote Dorothy Day who said “the only solution is love.”  We want to ask you tonight how your love for our city extends to these citizens of our city.  Because, to use another of Dorothy’s favorite quotes,  “Love in action is harsh and dreadful compared to love in dreams. “  

Homelessness is not a problem to be solved, but people to be cared for.  

In that spirit, we would like to invite you to our house for opportunities for conversation and relationship, away from the formality of tonight. We invite you to break bread with the homeless any night at 5:30PM, or for breakfast on Sunday at 9:30AM.

Thank you for this gathering, and may it be the beginning of a new relationship of trust and care.



Friday, May 2, 2014

Preventing Mental Health in the OC


In my post "Fallen Arches" I was singularly unkind to Psychiatrists for their unwise and untested de-institutionalization of patients from State Mental hospitals.  Unwise and untested, however is merely negligence, a civil matter. It has now come to my attention that the County of Orange has again surpassed my most dreaded expectations.

As I reported then, NAMI affirmed that the only way to enter the County Mental Health System was to have been an inpatient within the last six months.

Now, as the ACA forced the County to convert from its own unique system of capitation called MSI to Medicaid, here called CalOptima, I wondered how the County would deal with the twin "assaults" of parity and a newly eligible and relentlessly underserved homeless population.

CalOptima is, of course, paying thousands of bills daily.  To labs, doctors, and hospitals everywhere.  Plenty of money in their checking account.  So it stands to reason that only way CalOptima could be bouncing checks to inpatient psychiatrists would be the criminal act of knowingly writing bad checks from another deliberately insufficient and likely empty account.

The occasional bad check is no big deal if you aren't poor.  Apparently wilfully passing worthless paper, failing to tell the voters and then conspiring to prevent the OC's poor from obtaining the Mental Health care increasing elsewhere in America is no big deal if you're CalOptima.

I'm no reporter, and I can't check sources, so perhaps the best way to determine the verity of my accusations would be to ask at the next Board of Supervisors meeting.  After all that grand-jury concern about Janet Nguyen's self-serving machinations to put CalOptima into the hands of the Board of Supervisors, I'm sure they'll know all about the increasing inavailability of Mental Health over at CalOptima.  I expect they planned it, and I dread what we're doing to God's poor!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

No Child left behind - the bus at least.


The McKinney-Vento rep called me about a family that was going to be homeless.

I was honored.

These reps, and there’s one at every school, are in charge of implementing a program commonly called “No child left behind” which makes them responsible for making sure kids get to school if they become homeless.  Generally the school’s financial commitment is limited to bus passes, so they call me for the rest.

In the past, we dealt primarily with parents whose substance abuse or psychiatric problems was impairing their kid’s attendance.  To be invited to help parents whose kids did attend school was a real joy.  

Until I thought it through…

A multi-million dollar school district calls a private (poor) religious charity looking for $40 per day and assures me they’ll pay the $4/day needed for the OCTA day pass.  Since Orange County has decided not to help families, regardless of their children’s attendance, with emergency shelter, I have to ask what good bus passes really are if the kids have been taken by CPS when the mandated reporters at the school report, as they must, that the family’s only alternative is sleeping rough.

As personalists, we’re more than a little concerned with the legitimacy of a system where people with longstanding relationships are telling us that a kid’s future depends upon the generosity of people with whom the family doesn’t even want a relationship – just the cash.

We helped, because we are related through Christ, but I’m asking the McKinney-Vento reps that call for help to consider raising their voices.  

If not in protest, at least at a car wash designed to raise funds for sheltering homeless students.
Perhaps then the voters, if not the Supervisors, would get the message.


If I can help with the car wash, let me know... a lot of us Catholics have dirty cars!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Evidence of Innocence

North Justice Center,                     January 13, 2010
Department 12.
Fullerton, California
Dear Judge Gaffney

Last night Constance Ruff was released from jail with instructions to return Thursday with a California ID, a social security card, and presumably having applied for a Washington birth certificate.  She was charged with defrauding an innkeeper, a criminal offense.

Luckily Andy Saavedra of the Lights On Ministry (mistakenly?) assumed that the National Guard Armory Cold Weather Shelter Contractor – Mercy House, would be unwilling to accept her at 11:30 PM, so he called us here at the Catholic Worker in Santa Ana.

Had she followed “the program” Orange County has provided for the incarcerated homeless she may well have been unable to appear before you today, let alone make any progress on the tasks assigned her.  We were mistakenly summoned however, and we are grateful to have been of some small assistance to this woman.  We were also completely baffled by how she could have presented a fraudulent ID, or any ID, for that matter, to validate her putative presentation of a stolen or invalid credit card.  Permit us to explain:

When Ms. Ruff, using bus passes unavailable elsewhere in OC, traveled to the Santa Ana DMV with her jail documents, she was told that they “contained false information.”  She then returned to the Intake and Release Center, where she was informed that current policy precludes giving out copies of booking photos.  At the Social Security office on First Avenue, she was told that while her jail health data was valid for a disability application, only a picture ID could avail her a copy of her SS card.  A birth certificate and an SS card may be needed to obtain a California ID, but I do not know if a birth certificate will serve in lieu of a picture ID to obtain an SS card.  It is for this reason that she was referred to Judge Lindley’s Community Court to sort out this mess.

I do know that she has been given funds for both her birth certificate and a California ID, and one of our volunteers accompanied her in her quest to perform as prescribed.

Given her honesty in her dealings with us, and our volunteer’s report of her total naiveté in navigating government procedures familiar to experienced cons, I wonder how she could have presented any ID, much less a real one, with the intention of renting a room.  Each and every time I have rented someone a room, and I do that a lot, I have been asked for my ID to verify my credit card, and then the person I get the room for is asked for their ID as part of some homeland security measure implemented within the Patriot Act.

While I’m lucky that my credit cards are both valid and match my ID, I wonder how she obtained a room without both.  If, as she alleges, a con man used a stolen card to obtain her room, fraud does not explain her obtaining a room without ID as well as fear or remorse experienced by a desk clerk compensated illegally explains an eleventh hour summons of the police to criminalize what is really a civil matter, albeit one that would, upon discovery, surely get them fired.

In comparing the use of stolen credit cards with using counterfeit money in People v. Munoz, (Super. Ct. No. 07WF0998) the Court held there was no evidence that either Munoz or Prado was actively engaged in the creation of this counterfeit currency, stating “Based upon the record in this case, then, we cannot infer that Munoz actually knew she was passing counterfeit currency as part of her payment to the motel manager, and thus we cannot conclude she intended to defraud the motel when she made that payment.”  Although the Court cited using stolen credit cards as a counter-example, it was because that party had provided cards “with their name on them.”  Presumably their name was determined from matching ID.  That element is clearly missing here.
We have provided Ms. Ruff with a size two dress and a bus pass that she might be able to appear before you today.  When you are presented with the paucity of her resources, both intellectual and documentary, we trust you will immediately succeed where the police, at the urging of the desk clerk, failed, and see her for the obvious innocent that she is.
Thank you very much for seeing justice done in this matter.
Sincerely,

Br. Dwight Smith, SFO, Director