County opens first year-round homeless shelter in Anaheim, residents may start moving in Friday

Orange County Register | May 4, 2017 – 

When the first residents move in this week to the newly christened Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter and service center, it will mark a major step forward in Orange County’s efforts to find housing for thousands of people living on the streets, local officials said Thursday at a dedication ceremony.

“This is not a warehouse. This isn’t a place to stack people up,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose 3rd District is now home to the county’s first year-round, 24/7 shelter and multi-service center, near the 91 freeway and Kraemer Boulevard in Anaheim. “This is a life-changing facility.”

Spitzer made his remarks to a gathering of more than 100 that included a cross-section of those engaged in finding solutions for the county’s homelessness crisis: public officials and county staff, leaders of nonprofits and churches, representatives of the building industry, law enforcement, and advocates for the homeless.

About 20 homeless people who will occupy the first phase of the 200-bed shelter in a converted warehouse at 1000 N. Kraemer Place are expected to settle in beginning Friday, May 5, with about the same number to move in day by day until the initial 100 available beds are filled, said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House Living Centers, the nonprofit contracted to operate Bridges at Kraemer Place.

The second phase, which will accommodate another 100 people and include an on-site health clinic and kitchen, isn’t expected to open until next year. The completed shelter also will feature interior showers and restrooms to replace the rented modules provided by Royal Restrooms, a company that touts “a regal portable restroom experience” in writing on the side of the units placed in a secluded parking area.

The goal is to guide the Kraemer Place occupants to resources tailored to individual needs that could range from reconnecting them to family to placing the chronically homeless in rent-subsidized permanent housing that includes supportive services.

The average stay is expected to be about 90 days. Because more homeless men than women live on the streets, there’s a 70/30 split in the number of beds divided by gender, Haynes said. Meals will be provided by volunteers organized through Mercy House.

The county has an acute need for housing to shelter the homeless, whose numbers were last estimated in the 2015 federally mandated Point in Time Count at around 4,500, with about half unsheltered — a number that homeless advocates believe falls far short of reality and will be surpassed when figures from the 2017 report are made public later this month.

In Anaheim alone, where homeless people live in tent encampments in the shadow of Angel Stadium’s Big A on the banks of the Santa Ana River, a census undertaken at the city’s behest by the nonprofit service provider City Net recorded 797 unsheltered homeless people in November. Another 109 people were found living in shelters.

Numbers like that — coupled with ongoing pressure on city and county officials to find solutions and a sense of urgency after a fire last month that damaged the tents of several homeless people camped by the baseball stadium — put a spotlight on Kraemer Place to serve as a model.

“It cannot fail,” Spitzer told the crowd at the dedication. “It is a big Orange County social experiment. And we must have others.”

The process of securing a county site as transitional housing for homeless adults has taken years and stirred public outcry that killed other proposed locations in Santa Ana and Fullerton. Despite fierce opposition from nearby residents and business owners, county supervisors approved the Kraemer Place location in late 2015 and have earmarked $10 million to renovate the 30,000-square-foot former lighting factory.

Nearby cities also kicked in financing — $500,000 each from Anaheim and Fullerton, $150,000 from La Habra and $100,000 from Brea. Another $1.5 million in federal funds came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The annual operating budget is estimated at $1.8 million.

“This is a big day for our city and surrounding cities and for our partners, the county of Orange,” said Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait.

Paul Hyek, who expects to start calling Kraemer Place home starting Saturday, gladly sat through a half-dozen short speeches before getting a close look at the bunk beds, dining tables, portable restrooms and intake area intended as a safe harbor for him and others who have been surviving on the streets to find their way to permanent housing, jobs and other life-changing resources.

Hyek, 67, has been homeless the past two years and frequently attends civic meetings addressing the issue. He said he spent the night before sleeping at a bus bench. He parked his forlorn wheeled basket stuffed with a grimy blanket and other possessions in a far corner of the Kraemer Place lot.

One question Hyek wanted answered: “Can we leave our gear here during the day or do we have to pack it out like at the armory?”

The answer was yes to storing belongings on-site, unlike at the Fullerton Armory where Hyek spent his nights during the winter and, along with everyone else, had to vacate during daytime hours. Hyek ticked off the names of four homeless friends from the armory who, like him, had been OK’d by Mercy House to stay at Kraemer Place.

Homeless people, Hyek said, “have been working for years to get this.”

Haynes said almost all of the first 100 residents, who can live at the shelter for up to 180 days, have been identified through the county’s formal process that assesses vulnerability. Kraemer Place is intended to serve homeless people from 15 communities in north Orange County, stretching from Los Alamitos to Yorba Linda.

Under a “good-neighbor” policy aimed at the concerns of those opposed to the location, Kraemer Place will not operate as a walk-up shelter in the manner of The Courtyard that opened in October in the old downtown Santa Ana bus terminal. Only those living at Kraemer Place will have access to the shelter’s services; they will be shuttled in and out of the area from designated points in several communities.

Mercy House’s Haynes declined to disclose where the shuttle stops will be: “We don’t want it to be a magnet.”

Susan Price, the county’s director of care coordination who was hired in May 2016 to tackle the homelessness crisis, said Kraemer Place is another tool and shouldn’t be looked on as a solution. But its name is apt as a pathway out of homelessness, she said.

“This project creates a bridge between the streets and home.”

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