In February, the Orange County Board of Supervisors shut down Santa Ana’s Courtyard Shelter, OC’s last walk-in homeless shelter.
The Courtyard opened in 2016 to address the homelessness problem affecting Santa Ana. At the time, there were homeless encampments taking over nearby community centers, businesses and the Santa Ana Public Library. The shelter offered refuge to those living in the encampments and to those experiencing unexpected crisis’ such domestic violence at home.
The Courtyard closed just a few weeks after the Yale Transitional Center opened in Santa Ana. The Yale shelter was intended to replace the Courtyard, but has different requirements for admittance to its program. Before seeking shelter at Yale, potential residents must have a state issued ID, receive a referral from a health worker or the police, and be screened to determine if they are a good candidate for the shelter’s program.
The new shelter offers more services than the Courtyard, but it is limited those who have access to those services. In the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis, while the country, the state, and county are suffering record-high unemployment numbers, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is taking housing services away from those who need help the most.
The homelessness crisis in California is out of control. The latest numbers estimate more than 150,000 individuals are currently houseless. Orange County has between 7,000-10,000 houseless residents. The solutions offered by state and local governments are not working. In 2019, California’s homeless population increased by over 16%. The transitional services offered by the Yale shelter could have been a step in the right direction, but on its march towards progress, the county has decided to leave people behind. Moreover, they’ve done it all without clear communication with Santa Ana officials or the public.
The Courtyard was closed without a press release, without notifying the local school district, or even the Santa Ana City Councilor who represents the district where the Courtyard was located.
The Voice of OC asked county officials what kind of outreach was made to city officials before closing the shelter and were told that the county held a forum about the closure in October of 2019. That was five months before COVID-19 drove California into lockdown, before an unemployment crisis that only exacerbated California’s ongoing homelessness problem.
Only after local media reported on the Couryard’s closure did the Board of Supervisors publicly acknowledge the decision. In a routine county supervisor’s public meeting, County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett went so far as to congratulate Chairman Andrew Do on the transition from the Courtyard to the Yale shelter.
The transition hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’ve implied. The L.A. Times recently published an article about a homeless encampment that is taking over the parking lot of El Centro Cultural de Mexico, a community center one block away from the closed shelter. The cultural center has allowed the many homeless residents to stay on their property because they no longer have anywhere else to go.
The county’s decision to close the shelter without notifying Santa Ana officials has left the city unprepared and without a plan to help those that the Yale shelter turns away.
Homelessness isn’t a nuisance. It’s a tragedy. The longer we allow our neighbors to remain homeless, the more tragic it becomes. The only solution to homelessness is to provide readily available shelter and housing for every single person. We cannot continue to abandon our least fortunate neighbors and also expect the homeless crisis to simply go away.