Orange County Reneges on Commitment to Homeless and Residents Part I

Broken Hopes and Promises, For Lack of a Plan to End Homelessness

By: Tim Houchen
June 16, 2019 —

Last Tuesday on June 11, 2019, I joined members of Housing is a Human Right OC (HHROC) on an annual pilgrimage to the Hall of Administration for the Board of Supervisors budget hearings.

Every year we get a spirited group together and “pack the house” during the June BOS meetings to send a message to the Supervisors telling them to put funding in their annual budget for housing that would end homelessness.

For that one meeting every year we round up our most talented speakers and we plan our strategy and identify our talking points beforehand so that we can cover the different aspects that make up our argument. During an average meeting a speaker can expect three minutes during public comments to express their comments to the Board.

On Tuesday we had about thirty speakers and that is normally enough to invoke a ruling by the Board to reduce the amount of time for each speaker from the maximum of three minutes down to just one minute.

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”~ Earl Nightingale

Sometimes I actually craft two speeches. One three minute and a one minute diatribe just in case, but this time I didn’t do that. There I sat as others spoke in turn rushing to reduce three minutes into one while waiting for my name to be called to the microphone.

Every year mine is the same topic. I talk about the Orange County 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness just because nobody else ever does and our BOS needs to be drilled on this subject every so often and the public needs to be reminded that such a thing did in fact exist. Our County, however, never was fully committed to executing the plan and made damn sure that the plan was a failure by refusing to ever fund it.

For as long as I can remember, there have been some news reporters and homeless advocates, like myself, that have been critical about the progress of the 10-Year Plan as it slipped further behind meeting the goals and objectives as scheduled while at the same time the numbers of visibly homeless persons around the county continued increasing as indicated in previous Point-In-Time surveys (PITS) since the plans inception.

When my name was called to speak, I stepped up to the podium and determined there was no sense in trying to salvage my botched revised to one minute speech, so I decided to wing it. I introduced myself to the Board and held up my copy of the plan and explained that this might be the only copy of the plan since the Board voted to terminate it in January 2018.

I mentioned that there was a time when anyone could get a copy of the plan by downloading it on the county website. Shooting from the hip, I went on to ask what plan was the county currently working on and could I please have a copy so I could hold it in my hand. Then it just rolled out of my mouth, “But you probably don’t even have a plan do you?” I asked the Board.

“Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” ~ Sun Tzu

It really was quite a moment. All five Supervisors blinked hard at the same time and a collective sigh from the audience seemed to inhale all of the oxygen from the room for one split second. It was a classic a ha moment or an enlightenment. You can call it what you want, but I don’t think that I was the only person in that room that realized in that one moment that the county really does not have a plan to address homelessness in the absence of the 10-Year Plan which they so quietly deleted long ago.

I first wrote about my suspicions of the demise of the 10-Year Plan in an article published on May 29, 2017 for the Orange Juice Blog titled, OC’s Proposed Budget in Crisis: What happened to the “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness?” I was concerned at that time that recent county actions in response to the growing homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail indicated a policy shift away from the principles established in the 10-Year Plan.

I wrote the article after reviewing the Orange County Fiscal Year 2017-18 Key Budget Recommendations which I may have referred to at least once as the Orange County Budget For Dummies because of the way that the message condensed 905 pages of the actual budget that the average person is not supposed to be able to understand into 8 pages laid out in laymens terms which I could understand.

Upon reviewing the budget recommendations I discovered that the highlights of that recommended budget included Building a System of Care with the key initiatives of establishing shelters at the Courtyard and at Bridges Kraemer Place, creating Service Planning Areas, etc. which prompted me to write the content in the next paragraph into the Orange Juice Blog article.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the county to build any new System of Care to address homelessness like the one described in the Key Budget Message. As far as I am concerned, the county built the original system of care in 2010 and it was called the Orange County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

By the time that this recommended budget went for approval by the BOS both the Courtyard and Bridges at Kraemer Place were operational. What tipped me off was that the initiatives were labeled as System of Care initiatives in the budget message rather than initiatives of the 10-Year Plan, which they would have also been according to the document. This was evidence to me that the 10-Year Plan was no longer the document of priority regarding homelessness in Orange County.

At that time, I was not sure what this new System of Care encompassed, but I was sure that whatever it was, I had a hunch that it was replacing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. If this were the case, the county sure had a stealthy way of going about it because despite being under funded and behind schedule in meeting its goals there was no public discussion taking place that would have suggested that The Plan would be eliminated.

History of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness

​In 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) released a plan, How to End Homelessness in Ten Years. Drawing upon years of research and promising approaches from around the country, the blueprint provided the key strategies needed to address the issue of homelessness in 10 years. In 2001, HUD, together with the administration of President George W. Bush, created an initiative to end chronic homelessness. As part of the initiative, the reactivated U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) challenged cities to create plans to end chronic homelessness. 

“Planning is bringing the future into the present, so that you can do something about it now.” ~ Alan Lakein

In 2010, USICH released Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Opening Doors is the first-ever comprehensive federal commitment to end homelessness. The plan is especially notable because, when the federal government challenged communities to create plans to end homelessness in 2003, there was little in the way of federal assistance for these plans. Opening Doors aims to support local plan implementation and promote effective strategies across the country with a concrete timeframe and clear, measurable national goals. 

​The four national goals set in Opening Doors are: ending chronic homelessness in five years; ending veteran homelessness in five years; ending family, youth, and child homelessness in 10 years; and, setting the nation on a course to end all homelessness in 10 years. The plan is built around five themes: 

  •  Increase leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement.
  •  Increase access to stable and affordable housing.
  •  Increase economic security.
  •  Improve health and stability.
  •  Retool the homeless crisis response system. 

Orange County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness

The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness (The Plan) in Orange County was the product of an integrated community collaboration. It served as a roadmap of how to effectively end homelessness in ten years. The process for establishing The Plan actually began in 2008 with a Working Group composed of members representing various stakeholder groups including the business community, nonprofit homeless service providers, technical consultants, philanthropic foundations, education, mental health, housing, shelter providers and local government.

“A clear vision backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
~ Brian Tracy

Members of the Working Group were nominated by the community of homeless service providers and selected on the basis of their area and level of expertise, leadership ability and a willingness to commit the time and effort to engage in the planning process.

In September 2008, the Working Group came together and agreed that it was unacceptable to have homelessness in Orange County and that eradicating homelessness was a community-wide responsibility. The Group further resolved that in order to serve and protect the homeless and the community, a comprehensive plan of action must be developed.

The Mission:

“Effectively End Homelessness in Orange County Over the Next Decade.”

The Vision:

“A dynamic, comprehensive system of housing and services, proportionate to the need, which effectively ends homelessness.”

Core Values:

Preservation of Human Dignity: All people are worthy of respect, mercy, kindness, and compassion. All decisions made regarding the development and implementation of programs and strategies to end homelessness in Orange County will reflect respect for those in need and compassion for their specific situations.

A safe, decent, sanitary housing opportunity for everyone: All people deserve an opportunity for housing. Standards for safe, decent, sanitary housing will be achieved at all times.

Innovation: Those individuals developing and implementing this plan will be receptive to new ideas, methodologies and technology. They will be flexible and open to changing existing ways of thinking and working. In addition, they will foster creativity, “out-of-the-box” strategies, and effective problem solving.

Courage: Challenging situations are to be addressed openly and in a timely manner; directly facing and making difficult decisions, acting with bravery, and displaying a willingness to take prudent risk.

Expectation of Success: Those developing and implementing this plan are committed to the principle that anything worth doing is only worth doing with the intent to succeed. Working and leading will be accomplished with attitudes of realistic optimism and anticipation of achieving the end of homelessness.

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream. Not only plan, but also believe.”
~ Anatole France

The Orange County 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was approved by the BOS and put into action in 2012. Copies of The Plan were immediately made available to the public and could be downloaded for use at the county website. The Plan was made available to the public to encourage and invite members of the community to participate in ending homelessness in their communities. One could literally pick up a copy and begin working collaboratively with other organizations and members of the community towards solutions with common goals and objectives. It was a plan of transparency.

The most important thing about the new 10-Year Plan was that it provided hope and made a promise to persons experiencing homelessness and residents living in communities that were impacted by homelessness that this was a plan that would end homelessness. It was a promise to homeless persons that they would be placed in housing and provided the necessary services and resources that would help them become self-sustaining and contributing members of society some day. It was a promise to residents who were concerned about preserving the quality-of-life in their communities, they would not be subjected to increases of visible homeless encampments encroaching on the outskirts of their neighborhoods any longer.

The development of any 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness must be consistent with the State and Federal initiatives for ending homelessness and must incorporate a “Housing First” approach as a condition to Federal funding. Each community must submit annual reports on their progress in developing and implementing its plan in an application for Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Between 1996 and 2012, Orange County received approximately $153 million in Federal Homeless Assistance Funding. The County has received at least another $100 million since then in Federal Homeless Assistance Funding.

“Four steps to achievement. Plan purposely. Prepare prayerfully. Proceed positively. Pursue persistently.”
~ William A. Ward

(continued in part II)

Please look for the conclusion to this article scheduled to be published soon. In part II, we will look back to identify when the BOS abandoned the OC 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, who was responsible for its demise and why was the undoing of The Plan withheld from the public and performed under a veil of secrecy. And what does it all mean anyway? I’ll try to guide you through a tangled web to get at the truth by providing damning evidence that will expose the true enemies of the homeless in Part II.

This article was written by: Tim Houchen

In The News

In the News and the Homeless Documents Library are the best tools for public speaking or blogging
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More articles by: Tim Houchen —

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