Anaheim, California, made national headlines a couple of years ago when it began clearing out a homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River trail not too far from Angel Stadium and the Honda Center.
The city has the second highest number of homeless people in Orange County; only Santa Ana has more.
These two cities are some of the most populous in the county and also account for a majority of the total homeless countywide. Anaheim had about 1,200 homeless, according to the county’s last point-in-time count conducted in 2019 (the next count is scheduled for 2021). Santa Ana had about 1,770.
The city with the third highest number, Fullerton, had about 470—less than half the number in Anaheim. The remaining 31 cities in the county had fewer than 400 each, and most had fewer than 200.
Three new shelters have opened in Anaheim in the past two years. More than 3,300 homeless have transitioned into housing in the city in the past six years. The problem of homelessness remains at the forefront for city council candidates seeking election Nov. 3.
“This is not an Anaheim-only issue, [and] our city cannot continue to take on the challenge alone,” city commissioner Avelino Valencia, who is running in District 4, told The Epoch Times. “I will advocate for our city at the county level and collaborate with surrounding cities and their municipal leaders to address this problem.”
He wants to see other cities “take on their fair share of the responsibility,” increasing their number of shelter beds and making mental health services available.
Valencia would focus on developing an Anaheim Public Health Commission—“a multi-tiered approach” to provide holistic services and education.
Annemarie Randle-Trejo, who is also running for the District 4 seat, said an effective working group was made in 2017, but it’s been largely ignored. “People don’t remember that there was a task force formed in the city of Anaheim called The Homeless Policy Working Group,” she told The Epoch Times.
Task Force ‘Ignored’
Randle-Trejo, an Anaheim Union High School District Board trustee, said the working group devised nine solutions, including a “housing-first” model and revising Anaheim Police Department’s anti-camping ordinances. Other solutions included securing affordable housing and ensuring proper funding for homeless services in the city budget.
“Here was a group that got together and came up with attainable solutions,” she said. This was done under the previous city council, but she said, “This current council majority has ditched these plans in the last couple of years.”
Councilmember Jose Moreno, who had called for the task force’s formation in 2017, told The Epoch Times that this characterization is “largely correct.”
“Indeed, the current Council has largely ignored the Working Group recommendations which were unanimously approved / accepted by previous Council,” he wrote in an email.
The situation could become worse without intervention, Randle-Trejo said.
“People and families are one paycheck away from being on the streets,” she said. “We need to partner with our apartment and condominium owners to find ways to aid families and keep them in place. We have to work with our government officials to bring those dollars to the city of Anaheim.”
Seniors at Risk
Kenneth Batiste, a security officer manager and community advocate who’s running in District 5, worries about the impact on the elderly in particular.
“Seniors will comprise the next big block of homeless in this city,” he told The Epoch Times.
Batiste said the Anaheim elderly population is facing a “perfect storm” of complications. Some have lost jobs amid the pandemic that will never return. Others are afflicted with health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Batiste said he’s met with some seniors who are now unable to work after a lifetime of hard physical labor.
“Can they be blamed for their situation? Not hardly,” Batiste said. “We can’t offer such a bleak future—after a lifetime of labor to be insecure in your housing, to [have to] decide where your social security check will go: to your rent, to your medication, or to your food.”
He’s critical of the city’s Senior Safety Net program, saying, “There is one staff in this department [and] about 40,000 seniors in Anaheim.” It did little, he said, to help the seniors at Rancho La Paz Mobile Home Park who had a 71 percent phased rent increase during a five-year period.
To curb such problems, Batiste supports a 3 percent cap on annual rent increases for all renters, and “a real senior safety net with adequate staffing to take care of the needs of the seniors in Anaheim.” In addition, he called for shelters to be equally distributed throughout the city, and for additional assistance to the working homeless. He said he also planned to streamline the permitting process for accessory dwelling units.
Tiny Homes and Universal Basic Income
Batiste’s opponent, environmental studies graduate student Sabrina “Sav” Quezada, wants to explore two possible solutions: tiny houses and universal basic income (UBI).
The idea of implementing a UBI was also recently suggested by Fullerton City Council candidate Mackenzie Chang in an interview with The Epoch Times.
Quezada said it would be good to create communities of tiny homes. “Creating efficient tiny homes, with renewable energy, community gardens … job training, increased educational mentorship, money management guidance, [and] community support will provide for the foundation of meeting basic needs and … enable our homeless to develop into becoming productive members of society,” she told The Epoch Times.
Quezada said a UBI program could offer a social safety net that might protect families from economic shocks, including those related to natural disasters and disease.
She gave the example of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), a guaranteed income initiative in Stockton, California. Stockton is a city with a median household income about $15,000 below the state.
SEED gave 125 randomly selected residents $500 per month and collected data to see how it was spent. It found 37 percent of the money was spent on food, 22 percent on merchandise, 10 percent on utilities, and 9 percent on auto care.
“This contradicts misconceptions such as having ‘extra’ or ‘excess’ money would lead to money wasted on unnecessary items,” she said. “The money is spent on needed goods.”
She said safety nets should be funded through partnerships between the public and private sectors; she gave the Walt Disney Co. and Hilton as examples of potential private sector partners.
In District 1, municipal water administrator Jose Diaz advocates for more partnerships with non-profit organizations, such as the Salvation Army or Orange County Rescue Mission, to assist the homeless population.
“These organizations have low overhead costs and can provide both immediate help and long-term care,” Diaz told The Epoch Times. “They can also guide, train, and get individuals back to self-sustenance.”
Orange County Rescue Mission, for example, treats its residents as “students” who go through a program that starts with being a freshman and ends in graduation, with job and life skills learned along the way. The students have volunteer jobs on campus that can also provide training for future employment, such as landscaping. The program has found 85 percent of its graduates still succeeding two years after leaving.
On his website, Balius pledges to work with local and regional agencies to reduce or eliminate homelessness by identifying long-term resolution options.
Barnes, who was elected to city council in 2016, says on her website that considerable improvements have been made for the homeless.
“When I took office on the City Council, the number one issue facing West Anaheim was homelessness,” she said on her website. “Now, Anaheim leads Orange County in addressing this issue. We have made great strides by focusing on drug treatment, employment training, supportive housing, and additional police units with special training.”
Running against Valencia and Randle-Trejo in District 4 is community leader Jeanine A. Robbins. In a video on her website, she took Mayor Harry Sidhu and the city council to task for “Anaheim Way,” a 2017 effort to end homelessness.
“It’s dreadful,” Robbins said in the 2019 video. “The conditions are deplorable. … A cat was molested in Anaheim Way … and you all have the gall to claim success with this. … Without housing, you are simply warehousing people. You are failing our homeless residents.”
Incumbent Councilmember Steve Faessel, who’s running against Batiste and Quezada in District 5, said on his website that he made addressing homelessness his first priority when he took office in 2016. Accomplishments included clearing out encampments from the Santa Ana River Trail and creating a program to assist the homeless “who were willing to accept services,” he said.
“While there is still a lot of work to do, I continue to help those most vulnerable get into programs where they can turn their lives around as well as cooperating with law enforcement to protect the quality of life for District 5 residents.”