Orange County’s Homeless Shelters Hit by Wave of COVID-19

December 27, 2020 Updated: December 28, 2020

Orange County officials have converted the Fullerton Navigation Center into a COVID-19 treatment facility as surging infection rates have spread to the county’s homeless population.

The navigation center will serve as a living area where the county’s homeless population with the disease can isolate, reducing the risk of healthy people being infected at more crowded shelters. County officials worked with the City of Fullerton to increase the number of beds at the center to accommodate the added residents.

The change took place over the weekend of Dec. 19 and Dec. 20, when many homeless individuals with COVID-19 were moved into the facility while those who had been living at the center were moved to other locations, including motels.

A memo sent by Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel acknowledged the outbreak in the county’s homeless shelters, according to the Voice of OC.

“Over the last week, there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 positive individuals at congregate shelter locations,” the Dec. 22 memo stated. It said 16 shelters in the county were undergoing COVID outbreaks at the time. An outbreak was defined as three or more positive cases within a two-week period.

“In the past two weeks, 118 persons experiencing homelessness were confirmed COVID-19 positive,” the memo stated. “This is a considerably higher number of shelter outbreaks than we have seen previously, including during the summer surge when the most active outbreaks at any time included seven shelters.”

The memo didn’t mention which shelters were experiencing the outbreaks.

On Dec. 21, Orange County was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to postpone the 2021 Point In Time count of its unsheltered population due to the impacts of COVID-19. The count, taken every two years, tabulates the number of homeless people in the county on a single night during the last 10 days of January.

A county press release noted that the majority of Southern California agencies made similar requests. A mandated annual count and inventory of the county’s sheltered homeless will take place as scheduled.

New Facilities on the Way

On Dec. 15, the Orange County Board of Supervisors authorized $2.5 million for a new homeless shelter in Costa Mesa, as well as $650,000 for a shelter in Anaheim.

The supervisors also authorized county officials to seek approximately $32 million in state grants to create 143 permanent housing units for homeless people with serious mental illnesses.

The funding comes after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court Dec. 10 alleging inhumane conditions in county shelters, including sexual harassment, groping, overcrowding, rodent infestations, and more.

Shelters named in the lawsuit included Bridges at Kraemer Place and La Mesa in Anaheim, as well as the Courtyard in Santa Ana.

The lawsuit named the Illumination Foundation as one of three groups that operate the shelters—the same organization that runs the Fullerton Navigation Center where homeless people with COVID-19 are isolating.

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis