Perceptions clash over homeless population

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A homeless man stands by his belongings outside the National Guard Armory in Fullerton on Feb. 26. (Robert Huskey / Daily Titan)

Fullerton citizens, both for and against the idea of a year-round homeless shelter in their city, gathered en masse in the Fullerton Public Library Monday to discuss the proposed homeless shelter at 301 S. State College Blvd.

The question portion of the town-hall style event was handled by Rusty Kennedy, a member of the Fullerton Homeless Task Force.

A panel of officials gathered to dispel rumors and ease the questions of homeowners, concerned business owners and families who feel that a year-round homeless shelter would impact the quality of life of residents.

The hot topic of the evening revolved around safety and law enforcement.

Community members aired concerns about sex offenders, homeless individuals with criminal records and illegal immigrants and the effect that it could have being in a residential area with school children.

Director of OC Community Services Karen Roper said an armory shelter in Santa Ana, which is located next to a park and an elementary school, has been without any incidents concerning homeless individuals.

However, Roper also mentioned the safety of Fullerton residents would be taken into consideration.

“Because of the operation that we have and the model that we expect to run, we will expect to address safety issues.” Roper said.

Members of the panel were concerned that the shelter currently serving the city’s homeless, the seasonal Fullerton Armory Shelter at 400 South Brookhurst, is simply treating the symptom of homelessness as opposed to solving the Fullerton homeless problem.

“After 26 years of talking about this issue, it is time to act,” said Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “If there’s a better site, by all means, bring it forward.”

Nelson, when questioned about various alternate locations for the year-round shelter, took specific suggestions from the audience and noted that some of these proposed locations were refused because of asking price.

“(Wickes Furniture) was one of the first sites recommended when we knew that recommending a site had to be more than just saying a name,” Nelson said. “Wickes was over 200,000 square feet and the asking price was north of $20 million … Its isolation was ideal and it is for sale, it was just too big of a facility and outside anybody’s concept of budget.”

While a large amount of citizens present at the town hall meeting were against the proposed location of the year-round shelter, Sunny Hills resident Dawn Usher believed that the misconceptions of homeless people make them unwanted in any community.

“Frankly, I don’t have an issue of it being near a school,” said Usher. “If someone told me that there was a large percentage of homeless people that were pedophiles, that would be different. But I don’t think that’s the case, being homeless is not synonymous with being a criminal.”

Usher also mentioned that she believed a large amount of people attending the Monday meeting lacked compassion toward homeless. Usher felt that most Fullerton residents claim to believe in helping the homeless population, yet none of them want to help provide homeless services in their city.

Executive Director of Mercy House Larry Hayes mentioned that after years of working at Mercy House, he is adamant in giving homeless people the chance to get off the street and the opportunity to seek a better life was the first step toward eradicating all homelessness.

“I do know this, if our goal is to simply manage homelessness, if our goal is to say that no one can end it: we’ve already answered that question,” said Hayes. “The only chance we have to end this scourge is if we truly believe that we can.”

Panel members also consisted of executive director of Fullerton Collaborative Pam Keller and Fullerton police Cpl. John DeCaprio.

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