SANTA ANA — Mike Brown, 51, a former truck driver, suffered an on-the-job disability nearly five years ago and, unable to keep his home, has been forced to seek refuge at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter off and on during that time.
Now that the 27-year-old shelter has undergone a major renovation, Brown says it has gained something it previously lacked.
"It's immaculate now," he said, stepping out from the kitchen where he recently began working as a dishwasher. "It gives a street person more of a comfort feeling. It's more home-like now."
The $130,000 renovation at the East 3rd Street location, completed with federal emergency housing funds and funding, is the first that the facility has undergone since it was established as one of Orange County's initial emergency shelters in 1964.
Besides a more comfortable setting for its residents, the renovation will also mean four additional emergency bed spaces for homeless women, whose needs are considered to be critically under-served in Orange County.
The shelter will now be able to house about 16 women and children for short stays, along with 41 men. In all, there are about 100 emergency shelter beds in the county, with fewer than 40 spaces reserved for women, according to the Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force.
"The number is not large, but when you consider that there are only two full emergency shelters that cater to women, and you add 25% to that capacity, it does have an impact," said Dolores Barrett, coordinator of social services.
Elsewhere, the shelter has been repainted--from "dirty beige" to white with blue trim--and now boasts new bunk beds and furniture for the men's and women's lounges, new showers and plumbing in restrooms, and a new industrial washer and dryer. And for the first time in 27 years, shelter clients and staff are enjoying a pleasant, blue-gray carpet rather than yellow linoleum.
Directors also expect to add a case worker who will assist clients with job training, educational and other needs.
The addition marks a turning point in the Salvation Army's efforts to help the county's homeless--away from emergency assistance and towards longer term solutions, business manager Warren Johnson said.
"It's our major goal for the '90s to get people out of this life cycle of continually needing to seek assistance," Johnson explained.
To that end, the organization hopes in the next two to five years to build a transitional shelter that would house about 25 people for several months rather than days, Barrett said.
The project is still in the planning stages and no final decisions have been made, but Barrett said the facility would probably be built in Anaheim, where the housing authority has agreed to co-write a petition for federal funding of the project.
Barrett also noted that Anaheim officials and some neighborhoods have been amenable to assisting their efforts, unlike Santa Ana which several years ago blocked a planned expansion of the Santa Ana shelter after neighborhood opposition.
"The community has shown a real commitment to housing needs and a willingness to work with us," she said.