By Breeana Greenberg
The cities of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano largely agree with a recent Orange County Grand Jury report recommending that South Orange County collaborate to open a low-threshold emergency shelter for the homeless.
In separate filings, the two cities formally responded to the June 23 report, which had highlighted a series of shortcomings in the county’s efforts to address homelessness, such as a lack of enough affordable housing for those exiting shelters
The Office of Care Coordination, Continuum of Care Board and the cities of Orange County were required to respond to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations by Sept. 21.
In the report, the grand jury found that court-ordered treatment for mental illness and substance abuse is needed. It also found that the county does not have enough affordable housing for those exiting shelter, nor enough safe housing for youth aging out of foster care.
The grand jury also reported that South Orange County needs an emergency shelter.
While the City of Dana Point agreed with the grand jury’s finding that cities in the South Service Planning Area (SPA) lack a low-threshold emergency shelter, “resulting in more homeless encampments and individuals living on the streets,” the City of San Juan Capistrano disagreed partially with the finding.
Both cities’ responses pointed to a decrease in the South SPA’s unsheltered homeless population in the 2022 Point-In-Time Count compared to the 2019 count, with Dana Point noting that its outreach and diversion efforts have been successful.
San Juan Capistrano’s response letter noted that “although there are relatively few low-threshold shelters located in the South SPA, it is unclear what, if any, correlation exists between the number of low-threshold shelters and the increase or decrease of encampments and homeless individuals living on the streets.”
Both Dana Point and San Juan disagreed partially with the grand jury’s finding that collaboration between cities and the county has been inconsistent, resulting in “missed opportunities to end homelessness.”
Dana Point’s response letter argued that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, South SPA cities had been meeting consistently with the county to discuss potential shelter locations.
San Juan Capistrano’s response letter pointed to two projects that will cumulatively result in 60 permanent supportive housing units, noting that the city “actively collaborates with the County, neighboring cities and stakeholders in an effort to address homelessness.”
In response to the grand jury’s findings that there is a lack of affordable rental units available for those exiting emergency shelters, the City of San Juan Capistrano agreed, while the City of Dana Point partially agreed.
In Dana Point’s response letter, the city wrote that it was unaware of data that supports the grand jury’s conclusion but “does believe there is a lack of affordable housing units in South Orange County, not just applicable to homeless individuals and families. The city also believes a greater allocation of qualified Mental Health resources are needed to facilitate successful shelter exits from homeless into housing.”
The City of San Juan Capistrano similarly noted that “although the City has not independently researched this topic on a countywide or city-by-city basis, the Grand Jury Report credibly concludes that there is a shortage of permanent housing in Orange County,” adding that there’s a lack of affordable housing for all populations, “not just those individuals experiencing homelessness.”
The grand jury recommended that the Continuum of Care and County of Orange should “leverage funding to persuade South Orange County cities to open a regional, low-threshold emergency shelter for the homeless, in addition to the Laguna Beach Friendship Shelter” by July 1, 2023.
Both Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano said that would require further analysis.
San Juan Capistrano wrote that further analysis was required “with respect to funding availability, with regard to both capital and ongoing operational costs associated with a low-threshold shelter in the South SPA, as well as financial and other impacts to South SPA cities.”
Both cities noted that they were open to collaborative discussions to open and operate a regional emergency shelter.
In response to the grand jury’s finding that the county and cities should collaborate to open a facility to house people with addiction issues and severe and persistent mental illness, both cities wrote that such an initiative had already been implemented.
Dana Point’s response pointed to the county’s recently opened OC Be Well organization that offers “an all-inclusive campus for stabilization from substance abuse, trauma, and other mental health crises.”
Regarding the grand jury’s recommendation that the county, cities and the Continuum of Care collaborate to “encourage the development of (affordable housing) to individuals exiting the emergency shelters in Orange County,” both cities said that’s already been implemented.
As required every eight years, both cities have updated their Housing Elements, which are blueprints used to show that municipalities can accommodate projected housing demands and outline programs to address housing needs.
Dana Point’s response also noted that the city participates in “the Orange County Housing Financing Trust and actively meets with developers and property owners to evaluate feasibility” and is “open to continued collaborations with local cities, nonprofit partners and the county.”
Initially, the City of San Clemente was left off the list of cities that needed to respond to the report. However, in a letter to San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan on June 28, the Orange County Grand Jury explained that the omission of San Clemente was a clerical error.
According to the California Penal Code, failure to respond to a grand jury report puts agencies in violation of the penal code and “is subject to further action that may include additional investigation on the subject matter of the report by the grand jury.”
As of publication, 26 of the 34 cities in Orange County responded to the report ahead of the deadline. The cities of San Clemente, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Irvine, Los Alamitos, Placentia and Westminster failed to respond within the 90-day period, and the city of La Palma requested a two-week extension.
According to city staff, San Clemente requested an extension.
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org