A task force on the problems of the homeless in Orange County will consider a report next week that blames county and city governments for a "lack of political commitment" to the problem and criticizes social service agencies and programs for "discrimination against homeless people."
The task force has yet to endorse the report, and some of the report's observations could be deleted or changed at the task force meeting next Wednesday.
The Homeless Issues Task Force, which includes officials from city and county governments, charitable organizations and community activists, was formed 18 months ago by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach).
The draft report obtained by The Times contains several other conclusions about the county's estimated 4,000 homeless people that seem likely to stir some debate in their criticism of local governments and social service agencies. Among the findings:
- "Discrimination against homeless people exists in many social services and programs."
- "Lack of national housing policy right on down to lack of local housing policies greatly influence the problem."
- "Inadequate coordination of government agencies" and a "lack of political commitment" by local governments are obstacles to solving the problems of the homeless.
- Another problem for the homeless is "disowning (of the) problem by cities (and) localities."
The report identified at least two major obstacles to helping the homeless in Orange County: Many cities and their residents don't want to provide services to the homeless for fear of becoming a "magnet" for street people; and the county's extremely high housing prices and lack of an affordable housing program mean that inexpensive housing is difficult to find.
The homeless are "referred from one agency to another," the report said. "Communities often reject (the) homeless (and) do not want them in their communities."
And "decision makers do not see (a) housing policy connection to (the) issue of homelessness." The report did not name the local governments and agencies it criticized.
"But we can't say everything's fine when we know it's not," said Janey Arnold, a field representative in Bergeson's Newport Beach office. "We know we have a big affordable housing problem here."
The task force has a $25,000 grant from a nonprofit group and has obtained another $12,500 from a federal program for the homeless. It will soon hire a full-time executive director to set up a permanent organization concerned with the problems of the homeless.
Some activists say they are skeptical that the organization will accomplish much, given what they say is county government's indifference to the homeless. "They haven't done much yet," said Jean Forbath, executive director of the Costa Mesa charitable organization Share Our Selves. "So far all they've produced is this study."
Other members of the task force--such as Maria Mendoza, who coordinates the county's homeless programs--are optimistic. "I think we can come up with some new ideas," Mendoza said. "And we can focus attention on the problem."
The report also discusses at length what task force members see as problems in rallying a political consensus around help for the homeless in Orange County.
"Welfare recipients are seen as lesser persons in Orange County," the report said. "There is discrimination toward the poor and minorities." And near its end the report said: "All cities within the county should be doing something."