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Fullerton eyes spot near city’s airport for a 150-bed homeless shelter

Citing the urgency of its homelessness situation, Fullerton may let a nonprofit build a 150-bed shelter near the city’s airport as soon as early next year.

The City Council, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, approved giving $500,000 to the Illumination Foundation to help build the shelter at 3535 W. Commonwealth Ave. The city’s Planning Commission could vote as early as January on whether to grant a permit to the nonprofit to operate the shelter.

The shelter would reserve 60 of its 150 spaces for those recovering from health issues.

“We are trying to address the situation that we keep hearing over and over again: Do something about homeless,” Mayor Jesus Silva said. “It may work or may not, but we have to try and do something.”

City Manager Ken Domer said choosing a location on a major street such as Commonwealth Avenue should make it easier to transport people to and from the shelter – there would be no walk-up service.

The facility would be large enough to provide comprehensive services and would not be right against homes, Domer said. “From the city staff perspective, I believe it’s a very good site.”

The shelter would only accept those who had been referred. Staff would provide services such as counseling and medical care, and help those in the shelter get into permanent housing.

An anonymous donor spent more than $3 million in October to buy the building on behalf of the Illumination Foundation, the nonprofit’s CEO, Paul Leon, said. The nonprofit, which runs the La Mesa Emergency Shelter in Anaheim as well as shelters and homeless service centers across Southern California, expects to spend about $1.9 million to convert the vacant industrial building.

The city’s $500,000 commitment comes from a $1.2 million fund set aside for creating affordable housing. Fullerton also plans to apply for a state grant to further help the nonprofit’s effort to convert the building.

For the shelter’s 60 recuperative care beds, the Illumination Foundation would get funding from MediCal and other programs to provide services for those recovering from health issues. Residents of Fullerton and its neighboring cities would get priority.

The city would pay per person to fill the rest of the shelter’s 150 beds. If Fullerton doesn’t have the money to fill the entire 90 beds, those spaces could be opened up to other cities, Domer said.

Dozens of residents, including many from the city’s faith community, came to the council meeting to support the Illumination Foundation.

“They’ve dealt with negative implications in the neighborhood for not having a solution,” Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald said of Valencia Park residents who spoke in favor of the shelter. “They know something has to be done.”

But Councilman Bruce Whitaker voted against the funding commitment, saying he was uncomfortable with spending the city’s money on a solution that may not be working. He pointed to the county’s growing number of homeless people despite having shelters such as Bridges at Kraemer Place open in recent years.

Meanwhile, north Orange County cities, including Fullerton, are still working on building shelters in Placentia and Buena Park. The shelter in Placentia is expected to open in the spring, while one in Buena Park should open in June.

Having more shelters open, especially one within the city, should clear the way for Fullerton to enforce its anti-camping ordinance, officials said.

Source: Orange County Register

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