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Federal Official Urges Locals To End Homelessness

Federal Official Urges Locals To End Homelessness 

But homeless advocates and providers can't go it alone, says Philip Mangano.

December 4, 2008

By Yvette Cabrera
The Orange County Register

When it's cold and you're homeless and you have nowhere else to turn, wouldn't you knock on every last door?

Homeless shelters across the county are packed this season. So you can bet that tomorrow, when the county opens the doors to its emergency shelter program at the Santa Ana and Fullerton armories, there will be hundreds of homeless people lined up to get inside.

In recent years, the county opened these shelter doors in mid-November. But the opening was pushed back this year because of scheduling issues with the California National Guard, which allows the county to use the armories from sundown to sun up.

What's an extra three weeks? Not much if you have a roof over your head. But tell that to a family sleeping in a car. Leti Save, a director with the Catholic lay organization, The Society St. Vincent de Paul, says that over the past two weeks she's taken several dozen calls from homeless people desperate to find a place to sleep and wondering why the armories haven't opened.
 
"I've been calling other shelters, but there's no space, not right now. It's so bad. They've been hanging out at the park, and I've been telling them to hang on there," says Save, whose organization ran the county emergency shelter program for seven years up until this past spring.

The thought that these individuals had to wait even one more day is something to think about, especially now, as the county inches forward in joining hundreds of other cities and counties in creating a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

The federally-mandated push has been underway since the first term of the Bush administration and Orange County is now finding the time to join in.

A few weeks ago, the county hosted a forum to publicly acknowledge that it's working on this 10-year-plan. Karen Roper, director of OC Community Services, the lead county agency on the project, said that while initially they had hoped to have a draft plan by January, in time for a formal February presentation for the county Board of Supervisors, she expects this will be delayed.

"We don't want to rush. This is very, very important…We don't want people to be left out, we want the best and brightest ideas because we're serious about the concept of the ten-year plan to end homelessness," said Roper, whose department began the initial research on the plan in 2007, and after hosting community discussions established a working group this past August.

Thoroughness is important, but when you look at other cities and counties across the nation, Orange County is a bit tardy to the party.

Since January, 2003 when Philip F. Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, challenged mayors to create 10-year-strategic plans to end homelessness, 700 mayors and county executives have stepped up to join the fight.

Today there are 350 of these plans nationwide. Chicago is about to start its sixth year in the fight, emphasizing finding permanent housing as a way to end homelessness.
 
Earlier this year, I met with Chicago's acting housing commissioner, who confirmed that over the past two years the city has seen a 23 percent drop in homeless families and a 12 percent reduction in homeless individuals.

Also, the nonprofit Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, a collaborative of agencies that is responsible for implementing the plan, found that today 52 percent of the city's homeless resources are directed to permanent housing. Five years ago, the figure was only 38 percent. In all, 2,080 permanent housing units have been created in Chicago during the last five years.

At the recent forum here in Orange County, Mangano praised the work of homeless service providers, but also pointed out that despite good intentions, well-meaning programs and humanitarian gestures, homeless statistics nationwide haven't dropped in 20 years.

He emphasized to the group, which included County Supervisor and Chairman John Moorlach, and various supervisor representatives, that the problem won't be eradicated if left solely in the hands of homeless service providers and advocates.

"It is important for the CEOs to own the plan," said Mangano in an interview. "What that does then is it locates the accountability for results where it is appropriately vested."

Roper says there's always been a desire in Orange County to create a ten-year homelessness plan. But first, she says, the county had to pull the right partners together and build momentum.

Now, more than ever, we can't afford to wait. Neither can the homeless who are knocking on doors.

Contact the writer: Contact the writer at ycabrera@ocregister.com or 714-796-3649