Tustin faces a nail-biting deadline: Come up with a 50-bed shelter by mid-February, or allow homeless people to set up camp in public areas, officials said.
Responding to a court order, city officials landed on what they admit is an imperfect solution: Make use of a vacant, city-owned building at the Tustin Legacy, near Heritage Elementary.
Many parents aren’t happy with the choice of location. On Thursday, Nov. 1, about 60 people gathered at the site, displaying signs that read, “Protect Our Kids.”
“Already, it’s really hard to drop kids off at school with all the awful shootings we’re seeing,” Lauren Tuculescu said of recent incidents across the nation of school violence. She has one child at Heritage and another soon to start. “Why add an extra layer of anxiety and risk?”
Jeff Lawrence, whose daughter goes to Heritage, agreed. “The city needs to find a more suitable location that aligns with its goals, but provides a level of safety for our children,” he said.
To their surprise, residents say, the city announced on Oct. 25 that the shelter would be located at the corner of Red Hill and Valencia avenues.
“We were blindsided,” Lawrence said. “It’s been a flurry of emotions without a lot of answers.”
The city press release attributed the lack of notice to “the very short time frame mandated by the court.”
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter has been overseeing a lawsuit filed against Orange County and several cities on behalf of homeless people.
In August, Carter determined that cities and the county must provide housing for 60 percent of their total homeless counts based on 2017 statistics. For Tustin, that number was 69, meaning it must offer at least 42 beds, City Manager Jeff Parker said.
According to last week’s settlement, Parker said, Tustin can no longer enforce its anti-camping ordinances if the city does not meet its 120-day deadline for providing a shelter option. Last year, a homeless encampment sprouted at the Tustin Civic Center, stirring an outcry from residents. It was eventually cleared.
Over the summer, Tustin explored expanding the Orange County Rescue Mission – also located near the school – by 50 beds to meet its requirement, Parker said.
But in early September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that a city cannot “coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs,” nor “criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors” if nothing else is available to them.
That eliminated the Rescue Mission, which requests a commitment to Christianity for admission.
“We were back to square zero,” Parker said. “That put us in a major time crunch.”
The controversial site, he said, was the only one readily available – vacant, city-owned and appropriately zoned. “We agree that it is not the best place,” Parker said. “We are hopeful that the shelter will be there no longer than two years, and we are actively looking for a more suitable long-term solution.”
Tustin has other parcels in mind to purchase and rezone, he said. In the meantime, Parker said the temporary facility will be gated with around-the-clock security, and walk-ins will not be allowed. Sex offenders will be prohibited from staying there.
Jim Palmer, president of the Rescue Mission, will help run the facility, Parker said.
On Tuesday night, Nov. 6, the City Council will vote on whether to approve the shelter’s location.
Referring to rumors the city had numerous potential locations at its fingertips, Parker said: “Lack of information can become bad information. I understand how residents came to feel we did not communicate this process well enough.”
To address concerns, the city will hold a town meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, at Heritage Elementary, 15400 Lansdowne Road.
Parents accept that the city needs to assist its homeless, Tuculescu said, just not a few hundred feet from their local school.
“I’ve always been an advocate for the homeless,” she said. “Most are good people. Tustin should do something – but this location is not the place to do it.”
Source: Orange County Register