Many Fullerton residents worried that an influx of the homeless could lead to more crime or endanger children.
By LOU PONSI / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
March 12, 2013
FULLERTON – Many of the 250-plus residents who turned out for a town hall meeting expressed concern or disdain over a proposed year-round homeless shelter in their neighborhood.
County supervisors in January approved a $3.15 million purchase of the vacant building at 301 S. State College Blvd., formerly a furniture store.
But worries over the shelter’s proximity to an elementary school, the potential for a greater influx of homeless to the city and the possible decline in property values were among issues raised Monday night at the Main Library. So were concerns that a shelter would draw more mentally ill transients and sex offenders.
The meeting was chaired by Rusty Kennedy, director of OC Human Relations, who read aloud more than 40 questions written on index cards.
They were fielded by a panel that included county Supervisor Shawn Nelson, one of the main proponents of the shelter, and Larry Haynes, director of Mercy House, the nonprofit group that operates temporary shelters inside National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana. Nelson has said that Haynes would likely be the provider for the new shelter.
Karen Roper, the county’s community-services director and also on the panel, said there have not been issues related to sex offenders at the Fullerton armory, which is close to Pacific Drive Elementary School and Eastside Christian School. The new shelter would be 600 feet from Commonwealth Elementary School.
Haynes said that area crime increases minimally at shelters when they are open as compared to when they are closed.
“If it goes up, it would be addressed,” he said. “What I can point to is our track record and our history, and history has shown that we are a reliable partner.”
Another concern: Adding to the existing numbers of homeless camping in city parks, despite the city’s no-camping ordinance.
If there was a full-time shelter in place, however, police would enforce the no-camping policy, Chief Dan Hughes said. Currently, police have no place to take the homeless.
Kathy Cortez, a parent of two Commonwealth students, had doubts: “A shelter is (only) good for the ones that want to receive the help.”
Lorri Argueta, a member of the Commonwealth PTA and parent of two students, wanted to know why parents in the neighborhood had not been notified about the proposed shelter.
“We are very, very concerned for our little kids,” she said.
Some wondered whether a homeless shelter in that neighborhood would require the City Council to vote on a zoning change. Roper said that a zoning change would not be needed by the county to establish a shelter there.
A year-round shelter was the top recommendation of a city task force on homelessness and mental illness, which was organized after the death of schizophrenic transient Kelly Thomas in July 2011. Thomas died after a struggle with police officers; criminal charges have been filed against three of them.
The 29,032-square-foot building for the shelter is in escrow. The new shelter would accommodate 200 people and include space for individuals and families. County officials envision a police substation on the property.
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