CA Armories will soon be out of shelter business FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 17 Feb 1998 06:16:42 -0800 (PST)



       HOMELESS: Advocates and county social service
       workers are seeking an all-day, year-round facility.

       February 9, 1998

       The Orange County Register

       The National Guard wants its armories out of the shelter business.
       Gov. Pete Wilson agrees.

       California counties may use the armories for one more winter, but
       will get no state funding.

       Wilson argues, and most homeless advocates agree, that
       communities have had ample time to find alternatives. The
       armories have doubled as winter shelters for 11 years.

       It was supposed to be a temporary deal, while counties worked on
       permanent solutions.

       The National Guard says the structures, built in the '40s and '50s,
       are crumbling beneath the strain. In Orange County, meals are
       trucked in from the county jail because the armory kitchens are too
       poorly equipped. And the showers were designed for perhaps a
       dozen people on occasional weekends - not more than 100 each
       night for three months.

       "I hate to admit it, but the governor is right," says Lee Podalak, a
       longtime Orange County advocate for homeless people. "We've
       been warehousing these people. A little more state leadership would
       be nice."

       Welfare reform is investing billions to put poor families back on
       their feet. But it does nothing for the core of the homeless
       population: single people with medical, mental-health or
       substance-abuse problems made worse by a disorienting life on the

       In Orange County, the county and advocates such as Podalak
       estimate the homeless population at 10,000 to 15,000 people. The
       armories get a lot of repeat customers, but see about 2,500
       different people each season.

       Podalak and others hope for a new facility that would remain open
       all day throughout the year, with additional beds in winter.

       This would allow medical and mental-health workers to drop by
       and build trust.

       "We see them at the armory for three months each year, make a
       little headway, then they disappear," says Beth Booth, of the county
       Mental Health Association. "These are not people who like clinics,
       keep appointments. We need to go to them."

       In January, the county called a meeting to discuss what advocates
       and cities want to do. Representatives from two cities attended:
       Santa Ana and Fullerton.

       "We need to get beyond thinking, 'Those are your homeless, not
       ours,' " says Maria Mendoza, the county's homeless coordinator.
       "They are all our homeless."

       Unlike some, Mendoza says the biggest challenge is developing a
       plan that everyone can live with. The money, she says, will follow.

       "We have more volunteers at the armory each year than we can put
       to work," she says. "Our churches do a great job. We have big
       charities that are experts on the homeless. Once we have a common
       goal, Orange County will be there."


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