I wrote this letter to Santa Ana Police Chief Walters on April 12, 2012, more than two years ago. Chief Walters discussed it with Supervisor Moorlach, who I would assume, discussed it with the Ten Year Plan committee.
So there should be no last-minute hiccups in delivering the services promised in our 2008 Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Of course Mercy House will get the contract. Given their experience from running the armory, they'll be able to convince the Ten Year planners that putting a bunch of Case Managers into an office among the homeless will have the same outcome as having them visit the homeless in the Civic Center, as they do now. This is about the "bus station shelter"
Dear Chief Walters,
From 2000 through 2007 I ran the largest emergency shelter in Orange County. Actually, it was the largest shelter, period. But the reason I'm claiming credit for this accomplishment now is that I was running the largest underfunded, poorly-organized and nearly-negligent shelter anywhere.
Just like the one I'm afraid Supervisor Moorlach and Councilperson Martinez are thinking about installing next to the Civic Center.
I have more experience managing a "shelter near-disaster" than anyone else, and because I don't want County money, I can tell the rude truth about it. Ask anyone else currently receiving more than $1000000 in County funds how well they'll do running this thing and see what happens - after all, they have employee mouths to feed.
When I went before the Santa Ana City Council on April 2, 2012, I pointed out how the entire homeless population of the Civic Center was a result of the County's failure to authorize a single dollar for sheltering single, adult, non-disabled homeless persons. Moreover, I pointed out that a County shelter in the middle of Santa Ana would likely fill to become 50% residents of Long Beach, just as Orange Coast Interfaith had before when emergency shelter was still funded like the Armory is now.
Because I'm one of the only people (besides the homeless themselves) who volunteers full-time to assist the homeless, I often have a refreshingly unbiased opinion of our progress: Until we have a clear measure of ROI when it comes to homeless programs, these programs will remain poorly managed charities, a role I feel government should never play. Since no one can say with any certainty what we'll get for $1,000,000 invested with any one of the various non-profit programs, no one can decide from a financial perspective which programs to fund and which to dump. In the absence of such metrics, everyone favors the program their constituency needs, whether it's a bus station or the continued employment of trusted staff, especially if they're overqualified.
My simplest assertion is that we all need to stop pretending the Civic Center homeless are going to disappear. They are in the Civic Center now as a direct result of County neglect, and not by their choice. If we allowed them to choose between restaurants and the Civic Center, or a computer room at the Library vs. the Civic Center, this would obviously reduce the population density at the Civic Center. If we shelter them in the Santa Ana OCTA station without these or other alternatives, the Civic Center will remain their destination of choice. As bad as things are now by default, this change will make things worse by design!
I ask you, is there any location in Orange County with a higher incidence of "homeless type" violations? Then why is the Civic Center the County's first choice for this half measure featuring a full banquet of unintended consequences?
I have long resisted any move on the part of my fellow advocates to malign Santa Ana, based merely upon the numbers: We're the only city with both two emergency shelter and an Armory. But once the County has an "official" emergency shelter it is my fear that every hospital, shelter and police department in Orange County will solve their homeless problem by "bussing it" to the County Shelter in Santa Ana, where, in the absence of County programs that work reliably to reduce homelessness, these people, including toddlers, will become the SAPD's problem.
Chief Walters, the bus station is more than a tremendous need wrapped in a bad idea - it's symptomatic of the fact that no one, not even smart problem solvers like Mr. Moorlach, are really capable of deep systemic thought when it comes to the homeless. The reason is bias among his advisors: When almost all the money spent upon the homeless is spent upon transitional shelter, the present industry has to see any expansion in emergency shelter as portending a corresponding reduction in their staffing. No one likes to promote programs that mean laying off hard-won and loyal employees; everyone is going to be reluctant to promote any program that removes people from the Civic Center, because those folks' first step will necessarily be an emergency shelter. That means we'll need "homeless program" increases in a time of no new taxes. It's hardly realistic to expect transitional operators to cut their own throats.
There are (actually four) two Armories in the OC. I'd give anything to find out if any vendor could actually "draw the homeless" away from the Civic Center by offering the Armory contract to two vendors. Assign one vendor per Armory and let the homeless choose by boarding different busses. Since they'd be returned where they boarded, the preferred vendor would soon surface. Actually, the presence of competition would have a dramatic effect upon the operation of the Armory program. Since most non-profits choose between wages and program expenses, when all the competition happens at bid time, the performance promised often fails to materialize. A notable current example is the cessation of the intake process at all Cold Weather Armories at 9:00PM, presumably because the danger of hypothermia is gone by then? Obviously the neighborhoods filled with taxpayers (and police) who will now host the trespassers turned away from the Armory had no say in the matter, and I doubt there was any give-back negotiated in the bill. Imagine if you decided not to answer the door or phone less than three hours into your shift!
You have to ask yourself why someone would turn down a safe bed, a hot shower and a warm meal. You'd think that the Director of Homelessness, having spent almost one million dollars on the Armory contract, would have an answer. Since many of the hundreds of homeless people to whom I serve dinner after the bus leaves have declined to stay at the Armory, I do know. I suggested this insight to Mercy House's Director (the Armory Program vendor) years ago: Why not pay them?
I'd rather have bus passes than a bus station. If we were to give every person who passed the night at the Armory satisfactorily a day pass upon leaving, we could probably increase compliance and halve guard costs. Moreover, it's entirely fair to reward people for behaving in a certain way. The bus pass could be invalid upon certain routes, or perhaps for exiting at certain stops. Competition and borrowing best practices from other cities represent a proactive attitude toward governing this growing problem, as opposed to having "homeless program management" handled by the police. Police simply cannot charge or pay homeless people because we're used to seeing them as dispensers of justice, and the enemies of crime. Every interaction between the police and the homeless is a failure of the social services system, unless of course
the homeless person is a crime victim.
In the absence of sound business models, it will be impossible to convince taxpayers that we should increase "welfare" for those people we currently and unavoidably treat as criminals. Making the bus station a homeless destination without a corresponding increase in proven strategies to first de-criminalize and secondarily re-integrate the homeless will merely concentrate our failure to govern this situation into the city that can least afford it.
If I'm correct, and we propose quite reasonably that every dollar spent upon emergency shelter be accompanied by a necessarily larger amount designated for program expenses by well know ratios derived from best practices, it behooves the Board to commit such funds simultaneously upon seriously proposing a budget for the housing portion involving the OCTA property. It is only in this way that the County can avoid a legitimate inference of warehousing, or worse, allowing the false economy of sunk costs to encumber a future fortune through a lack of planning. Just because you have an unused bus terminal is no reason to turn it into a homeless shelter. In the end, it will be shown, especially now, when cheap property is available everywhere, that facilities capital costs are the least significant portion of the services delivery problem.
Not having an accurate map, it's altogether too easy to announce "X marks the spot!"
Should you wish assign someone to discuss this further, I'm at your disposal.
PS It is, of course, entirely possible that I've got this whole thing backward, that Supervisor Moorlach, having been made aware of the utter absence even of restrooms in the Civic Center, has been secretly working upon a state-of-the-art plan to implement a 200+ bed emergency shelter services delivery system, and the bus station fell into place at the last minute.