Irvine is gripped by a controversy over whether to establish "transitional housing" for the homeless on the 20-acre site of the city's animal shelter or to convert one never-used kennel into a 50-bed central homeless facility.
That's the kind of debate we like to see: one that centers not on if , but how to best house the homeless, an obligation that too many communities still haven't faced squarely, let alone tried to resolve.
There are no accurate statistics, but the best estimate seems to be that there are 4,000 to 5,000 people in the county who have no place to sleep. Only six cities--Fullerton, San Clemente, Orange, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Tustin--have shelters for the homeless. Last Tuesday the Anaheim City Council voted to create the city's first shelter by giving state grant funds to the Anaheim Interfaith Shelter Inc. for purchasing a 10-unit apartment building to house the homeless.
The Irvine council last week also decided to create a 50-bed housing shelter to expand a program that supports a private agency's operation of five furnished city apartments.
State law requires all cities to identify potential sites for the homeless by next Jan. 1. Irvine, however, is conscientiously going well beyond that requirement by not only identifying potential sites, but also by providing the housing and, even more noteworthy, by pursuing a policy of accepting its "fair share responsibility" for the county's homeless.
That means that with about 5% of the county population, Irvine's "fair share" would be about 200 temporary beds. With about 30 families in Irvine homeless every night, the city still has a long way to go, but the council and the community are energetically pursuing that goal. Other cities need to be as committed to accepting their fair share of the homeless problem.
Even considering an unused animal shelter to house families may sound less than humane. But the fact is that once renovated, the heated and air-conditioned building, which has sat unused since it was built about three years ago, will be well separated and insulated from the other structure on the property and provide spacious, comfortable and more than adequate temporary housing. So would the more expensive option of moving modular units--mobile homes or abandoned houses--to the east Irvine site as well as any other option the community may come up with between now and Nov. 24, when the council is scheduled to take final action.
Any of those choices will give the homeless in Irvine far better living conditions than they now have, and much more than others in communities that are still doing nothing for the homeless among them.