Working Together to Address Homelessness in Orange County
When it comes to government, I’m an outsider. That gives me a relatively unique perspective in Sacramento, one that is more closely aligned with the people I represent than those of the politicians I work with in the Capitol.
Along with many of my constituents, addressing Orange County’s homelessness crisis is one of my top priorities.
As I have dug into this, I have realized that there is a lot of confusion about the role of the state, the county, the cities, nonprofit organizations, and other partners. How do we all work together and how can we do a better job?
The scope of the crisis
On any given night in Orange County, more than 5,000 men, women and children are without a place to sleep.
Last year, the United Way partnered with UC Irvine to conduct a study on homelessness in Orange County. The study looked at the cost of homelessness and concluded that Orange County spends approximately $300 million dollars a year to address homelessness. And that the cost of fully housing the homeless would in fact be less – approximately $250 million a year.
Earlier this month, a report revealed that 235 homeless individuals died in Orange County in 2018.
So this is both an economic and humanitarian crisis. And we all agree that we must act now to solve it.
Good progress – and much more to do
The good news is that Orange County is building a system of care – with new shelters being built, permanent supportive housing capacity coming online and the first of three BeWell mental health centers underway.
Across Orange County, there are so many individuals and groups that are doing tremendous work: United Way, The Illumination Foundation, Mercy House, Jamboree Housing, Related, Colette’s Children’s Home, WISEPlace – to name just a few.
The quickest and most effective way for us to build capacity is to invest in these existing programs that are working. As state officials, we have a tremendous opportunity to amplify the work of these groups and to multiply the number of lives they can save.
The state’s job: show me the (smart) money
Orange County doesn’t need Sacramento politicians telling us what to do and saddling us with unfunded mandates. We need help cutting red tape and securing our fair share of state funding.
As your Assemblymember, I have three key objectives:
1) Ensure that the state is spending taxpayer money efficiently and effectively
The state is spending a lot of money on programs to address homelessness. Where is this money going, and is it working? As chair of the Assembly’s Accountability Committee, I am convening a series of hearings on this subject. The first is an inquiry into how mental health dollars are deployed across the state.
2) Get Orange County’s fair share of state funding
Last year, Orange County established the Orange County Housing Trust, and every one of Orange County’s 34 cities committed to do their part to address our regional homelessness crisis. In Sacramento, I am working to secure Orange County’s fair share of funding from Prop. 1, Prop. 2 and other State programs in order to turn the vision of the Housing Trust into a reality that will benefit all of our communities.
3) Streamline the process and remove obstacles
The state has a lot of funding streams and a bewildering array of programs. But the bureaucracy is incredibly hard to navigate. In partnership with local officials and organizations, I am developing legislative solutions to streamline the process in order to get shelter, crisis stabilization, mental-health centers and recuperative care centers up and running more quickly.
While the scale of this crisis is staggering, we have the strategies, resources and will to solve it. Let’s act now to save lives and heal our communities.
Cottie Petrie-Norris represents the 74th District in the California Assembly.