July 16, 2013


When Kelly Thomas died on the streets of Fullerton, we all shared some responsibility. We looked to blame others, and certainly there was blame to be meted out, but we all could have been part of preventing Thomas’ death.

An awesome collection of clergy, shelter providers, business representatives, residents, faith community members, food providers and diverse community leaders came together with the support of the City Council, administration and police, to find out how we could do better as a community in the future.

The Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force engaged hundreds of Fullertonians in a community planning process from September 2012 until this May that resulted in a number of recommendations.

Rusty Kennedy is the Convenor for the Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force and CEO of OC Human Relations.

The No. 1 recommendation, subsequently endorsed by all current and past City Council members, was to open a comprehensive multiservice homeless shelter in north Orange County. The shelter would follow a unique model that focuses on rapid re-housing, supportive services located on-site, and best practices for helping the many elements of our homeless community.

It seemed like “manna from heaven” when a site was located by Supervisor Shawn Nelson in collaboration with city officials and North County leaders. The site had so much potential, and because of unique circumstances, additional financial resources that might ensure its successful operation by a local nonprofit organization.

But we came together as a community and found all of the reasons it would be better to place it somewhere else, as many have done with other locally unwanted land uses. And in a close vote June 18, the City Council voted the proposed shelter down.

So I asked myself, “Who said this was going to be easy?”

Obviously, I am disappointed at the failure of this solution, but many are exploring new alternatives.

As the Fullerton task force (now in an unofficial capacity) continues to meet with a group of other caring volunteers, we will be looking at how we can support the alternatives. We will also turn our focus on some of the other recommendations in our May final report to the City Council.

One in particular of interest to us is finding a location to develop some permanent supportive housing like the Diamond Aisle apartments in Anaheim. This shelter-plus-care approach provides homeless people suffering with mental illness with the structure and care they need to be productive members of our society.

Wouldn’t that be a fitting tribute to our mentally ill family members and friends?

But it won’t happen overnight, and it will not be easy. It will take the focused attention of all our caring community to overcome the inevitable hurdles.

– Rusty Kennedy is part of the Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force and CEO of OC Human Relations