By: Tim Houchen
August 31, 2020 —
On a night in April 2018, at the very peak of the homeless crisis in Orange County, gathered together were homeless advocates, community stakeholders, members from the business and faith communities as well as elected officials from across the county. They crowded into a conference room to hear advice from the man who led one of the most successful efforts ever to address homelessness in the U.S.
Homelessness in Orange County had experienced some of its darkest days in the weeks leading up to that night at Chapman University when the late Lloyd Pendleton spoke.
Shocking numbers of persons experiencing homelessness were dying in Orange County in the early months of 2018. By April 1st it was evident that the county was well on its way to setting a record number of homeless deaths that year. Deaths occurred at a rate of about one death every 30 hours.
See video below for information regarding
an Orange County Grand Jury report on homelessness
Timeline of Homeless Deaths in Orange County
Late February – Early April 2018
— 2/23/2018 1 dead, 1 critical in stabbing near homeless encampment in Orange | ABC 7
— 3/9/2018 Yeweinisht Mesfin, California Adventure Custodian, Died Homeless in Her Car | OC Weekly
— 3/11/2018 Suspect who struggled with Anaheim police officers dies in hospital | OC Register
— 3/12/2018 Santa Ana police investigating homicide at Civic Center homeless encampment | OC Register
— 3/16/2018 Family of 4, including children, found dead in van in Garden Grove… | OC Register
— 4/3/2018 Homeless Woman Found Dead In Mission Viejo Parking Lot | The Patch
During those darkest days, Orange County’s homeless were losing a battle over the rightful use of some of the county’s most-prized public spaces. At the Santa Ana River Trail (SART) the homeless collided with recreational bicyclists and nearby residents of a high-end condominium complex after a homeless encampment sprouted near Anaheim Stadium in 2016. A P.I.T. survey in 2017 suggested that the number of homeless persons in the county had increased 13% since 2013. The increase was reflected in the growing numbers of persons populating the River Trail encampments which had blossomed to an incredible total of 500 persons according to officials, but may have been as high as 1200 at one time according to advocates that worked there.
By early November of 2017, It was clear that the County of Orange was ramping up to clear the Riverbed. Their plan, was to push smaller encampments near Fountain Valley into the largest encampment near Anaheim Stadium. This article documents those events on SART and includes a stunning revelation by then County Supervisor, Shawn Nelson, the intentions of the county to push homeless persons from the Riverbed encampments into the streets of the City of Anaheim.
However, before the Riverbed was ultimately cleared by the county, homeless advocates filed a lawsuit and requested a restraining order to stop the evictions at SART. On February 20, 2018, Federal Judge David O. Carter brokered a deal with the County of Orange which would allow the County to move forward with clearing the Riverbed after providing homeless residents there with 30-day motel vouchers. By February 26, 2018, the Riverbed was cleared and a few of its former residents were placed in the last remaining shelter beds and a majority of those displaced were given vouchers for motels. A massive clean-up was launched by the County to clear the debris left behind from the encampment.
Santa Ana River Trail Homeless Encampments
Timeline of Eviction
— 11/10/2017 Homeless people pack up and leave Fountain Valley river trail…. | OC Register
— 12/8/2017 Fear, loathing and hope for homeless on the Santa Ana Rver Trail… | OC Register
– 1/8/2018 Orange County to start clearing out massive homeless encampment on Jan. 22 | 89.3 KPCC
– 1/21/2018 Orange County is ready to clear out the SART homeless encampment. But … | OCRegister
— 1/23/2018 OC Sheriff’s Deputies Begin Evicting Hundreds of Homeless People at SART | Voice of OC
— 1/29/2018 Advocate for homeless sues to stop Orange County from clearing riverbed … | LA Times
— 2/2/2018 Restraining order request could halt effort to clear OC homeless camp | OC Register
— 2/7/2018 Federal Judge Temporarily Halts Riverbed Homeless Evictions | Voice of OC
— 2/13/2018 OC to clear out riverbed homeless, provide 400 motel vouchers | OC Register
— 2/26/2018 County Wraps Up Homeless Evictions at Santa Ana Riverbed | Voice of OC
By late March 2018, motel vouchers began to expire. Some of the homeless were given extensions, but many more were forced back on the streets. Federal Judge Carter reconvened court on March 17th to discuss a transition of homeless persons leaving the motels into permanent housing, but that was a problem that had always existed in Orange County. Too many homeless and not enough permanent housing for them. This was the beginning of a mass exodus of homeless persons from motels back to the streets.
In a surprise decision by Carter during the March 17th hearing, Carter ordered the clearing of the County’s second-largest homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Civic Center. The homeless encampment at the Civic Center was a site where 150-200 homeless had been living there for years. Some of the homeless persons living at the Civic Center had been living there for as long as a decade.
By mid-March, all county homeless shelters were full. Judge Carter continued to add pressure to the county and cities to provide shelter beds for each homeless person. As a consequence to non-compliance with the Judges orders, cities could be prohibited from enforcing laws that ban people from camping in public spaces such as parks and river ways. With hundreds of 30-day motel vouchers set to expire within days, Orange County supervisors hatched a plan to create 400 additional shelter beds on county-owned land in Huntington Beach, Laguna Niguel and Irvine. One day after the county announced its plans for the three proposed emergency shelters, lawsuits were filed against the county by the three host cities. This set the stage for numerous protests by resident NIMBY’s from the proposed host cities and other cities that wanted the county to know that they too would not allow a homeless shelter in their city.
The protests were hurtful and hateful as angry residents expressed fear and had more concern for the preservation of property values than the preservation of the lives of persons experiencing homelessness. In no uncertain terms, the lack of compassion was abundant and any sense of responsibility within many communities to participate in solutions to end homelessness were almost entirely non-existent.
Timeline of Protests by Residents Opposed To Establishing
Emergency Homeless Shelters in Cities
— 3/21/2018 Orange County Officials, Residents Clash Over Housing Homeless | NBC 4
— 3/22/2018 Backlash Kills Plan for Homeless Shelter in Huntington Beach | KTLA 5
– 3/22/2018 Residents mobilizing to voice opposition to OC’s idea for homeless … | OC Register
— 3/23/2018 About 250 Irvine residents convene to oppose homeless camp next … | OC Register
— 3/23/2018 OC’s Homeless Plan Collapsing as Residents Balk at Having Shelters in Their … | KTLA 5
– 3/26/2018 Irvine residents hold rally against homeless encampments | FOX NEWS
— 3/27/2018 Hundreds protest homeless, sanctuary law outside BOS meeting | OC Register
There was but one glimmer of hope left for homeless persons displaced from the Riverbed, Civic Center and hundreds of other persons experiencing homelessness across the county. In late February an announcement came from a group comprised of local leaders from business, religion, philanthropy, and government. The intentions of the group were to launch a collaborative campaign to reduce homelessness in Orange County by developing 2,700 units of permanent supportive housing, enough to house more than half of the 4,792 unsheltered homeless people counted during the last official count in 2017.
At the time, it was difficult to imagine how such a big plan could ever move forward based on the pushback from residents countywide. Where would 2,700 units of housing specifically created for homeless persons be located just after such huge opposition to a handful of homeless shelters?
Enter the late and great Lloyd Pendleton on April 5, 2018 during a conference on homelessness held at Chapman University. His speech that night highlighted his 3 C’s philosophy of ending homelessness.
After retiring from management positions at Ford Motor Company and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lloyd Pendleton began his second career as the Director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force in 2006. His goal: To functionally eliminate the state’s chronic homelessness problem within 10 years. Using the “Housing First” approach, Utah was able to reduce homelessness there by as much as 91% under Pendleton’s direction. Utah is considered to be the most conservative state in the nation with a total population similar to that of Orange County at about 3.2 million.
Among his recommendations that night at the conference on homelessness, were Pendleton’s 3 C’s philosophy: have a “champion” bring together community and government leaders to break through barriers and urgently move toward solutions; have a “highly collaborative” approach with a clear vision and measurable outcomes; and be compassionate for each homeless “brother and sister.”
Pendleton said that federal Judge David O. Carter has emerged as Orange County’s main “champion” on homelessness. And he called on local mayors and other elected officials to follow Carter’s lead by getting to know homeless people and learning what it would take for them to get off the streets.
Carter is “walking along there, meeting homeless individuals, seeing them eyeball to eyeball. Go out with him! Meet your homeless citizens! They’re human beings. Get over this idea [of] ‘not in my backyard.’ They’re your citizens!” Pendleton said, to loud applause from the audience.
Persons experiencing homelessness and many homeless advocates had endured more than six weeks of chaos and turmoil prior to the delivery of Pendleton’s message to Orange County that night. The homeless had been displaced from one place to another and advocates helped with transportation for the homeless along with their gear or provided necessary support to meet all of the immediate needs of those that had been displaced.
The lack of compassion, or for better words, the contempt displayed by county residents over the weeks leading up to the homeless conference on April 5th, weighed heavy on the shoulders of homeless persons and advocates alike. There is no certainty that Pendleton’s message that night carried enough weight to inspire those that were negatively impacted by recent events. It could be said that Pendleton’s message was right on-time. On the other hand, it could have seemed at the time to some, to little and too late.
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More than two years have passed and unfortunately, Lloyd Pendleton has passed away since then. But today, his message might be more inspiring than it ever was. Based upon recent news regarding a new Orange County initiative to provide permanent housing for those people experiencing homelessness, it seems to be perfect timing to re-visit Lloyd Pendleton’s advice from the past.
I plan to share the details of this new housing initiative for Orange County’s homeless in my next installment after I get an opportunity to interview the “champions” that brought forth this new and promising initiative. I think the chances are real good that these champions were in the audience that night when Lloyd Pendleton spoke at Chapman University.
In the aftermath of the events covered in this article, a number of emergency homeless shelters have been established in a short amount of time in several cities in Orange County. In most cases, elected officials are able to persuade constituents into supporting the creation of new shelters based on half-truths.
Residents are being told that cities must provide shelter beds for persons experiencing homelessness in their city in order to enforce anti-camping ordinances. As we know, this is only part of the truth.
Please see this video featuring Lloyd Pendleton
A homeless family or individual living in an emergency shelter is still determined to be homeless by legal definition and homelessness only ends when a family or individual has a healthy, safe and secure place to call home. Every shelter must have an exit into permanent housing.
If not, the shelters may become full and with no opportunity for families and individuals to transition into permanent housing, they may be asked to leave the shelter for a period of time in order to make room for another homeless family or individual.’ In that case, city shelters will reach capacity and without sufficient shelter beds for those waiting for a bed, the cities may lose their right to enforce anti-camping ordinances once again.
Our message should always include the need for permanent housing as a solution for ending homelessness one family or one person at a time.
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