Living on the Street

Shelter /  Homeless for 20 years, Cindy Casey waits for the rain to stop in a parking lot behind Civic Center.  / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

Shelter / Homeless for 20 years, Cindy Casey waits for the rain to stop in a parking lot behind Civic Center. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

City’s Homeless struggling to survive

By R. Nicanor Santana

Every morning several hundred homeless people gather near Santa Ana’s Civic Center for a breakfast served by various local nonprofit organizations. Others who are scattered along the riverbed or living in parks seek food elsewhere, or arrive later for dinner, which is usually provided alongside a religious service.

Some have been without a home for more than 20 years, and others as little as a few days.

After the meal, the homeless scatter across the city in search of jobs and health care services, seek money through panhandling or by collecting bottles and cans to recycle.

Santa Ana College student Jonathan Vega works with R-HOPE, which provides a full breakfast every other Saturday to the Civic Center’s homeless. Based in Santa Ana, the organization initially served bread and coffee but expanded to making and providing hot food with the help and donations of friends and family.

“It gives them hope to further themselves. I start seeing them go to Santa Ana College,” Vega said. “I think the city should give them resources to help them out.”

About 1,400 homeless are estimated to be in Santa Ana, with the majority living outdoors near the Civic Center.

Downpour / The homeless build makeshift tents outside Santa Ana’s Civic Center, surrounded by the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and City Hall.  / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

Downpour / The homeless build makeshift tents outside Santa Ana’s Civic Center, surrounded by the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and City Hall. / R. Nicanor Santana / el Don

Those residing in weekly motels and emergency transitional homes are also counted as homeless, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The reasons why people lose their homes vary. Mental and physical disabilities, addiction, family conflicts and economic woes are the main causes, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“The toughest things to deal with as a homeless [person] is the weather as well as the shower and bathroom conditions,” Ron Wallace said. The Santa Ana College student has been homeless for a year. “Everyone has a different answer.”

Orange County does not have a year-round shelter. The first year-round homeless shelter in Orange County was approved last July, to be built in Santa Ana. The County Board of Supervisors approved $3.6 million for construction of a 23,220-square-foot facility with 200 beds and other services. Resistance from the surrounding neighborhood’s residents helped scuttle the project.

There are a few options.

Transitional houses for the homeless such as Mercy Home offer six-to-24-month wellness programs with eligibility requirements such as employment or attending school.

The National Guard Armory is a temporary shelter that offers an emergency stay for 34 men. A 14-day stay and a Worker Stay Program are open for 16 men, with an extra 30 days if they have a job. Beds are raffled exclusively to men at 3:20 p.m. each day for emergency stays. Entrance is allowed at 5 p.m. and occupants must vacate by 7 a.m. Dinner and breakfast are given and showers are available.

Between juggling requirements, hours and battling for the few beds available during the day, life is not easy for a person with no shelter in Orange County.

Often, they have to shower in the empty transit station, in a bathroom with no doors and only cold water. It is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. only, leaving the homeless to seek local businesses’ restrooms at other times.

In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development distributed $19.5 million in grants to county and nonprofit organizations in Orange County, totaling $206 million since 1996.

“We don’t even get a tenth of that. That’s why we started the Roundtable,” said “Q”, a member of theHOMELESS002 Civic Center Roundtable Coalition started by a group of homeless last January.

SAC Sophomore and Sociology major Cyndy Garcia co-founded Hygiene2Go, a non-profit whose goal is to provide continuous assistance to homeless women including providing pads, tampons and wipes.

“Women get periods and often times do not have products, so their clothes get stained. They don’t have access to a restroom. This can bring infections, diseases, embarrassment and low self-esteem,” Garcia said.

“As we continued to do research, we decided to also provide hygiene products to homeless men.”

It is before 7 a.m. on Tuesday May 12 and there’s a police officer in the parking lot between the empty Santa Ana bus terminal and the Civic Center Walk of Honor. He is handing out $500 camping tickets to the homeless there.

Leon Hill, has been in and out of homelessness — returning many times to the Civic Center — was one of six who received a citation.

The Civic Center Roundtable Coalition was formed in an effort to stop police raids that confiscate the homeless’ personal belongings, spokesman “Smitty” said. In a video taken by a member of the Roundtable, a construction tractor is seen picking up the belongings and dumping them into the large city truck.

Items are trashed if they are not redeemed within 90 days.

The Roundtable has successfully ended the confiscation, “Smitty” said, and urges people to accept the ticket and fight it in Homeless Court, which was created to handle legal matters and settle misdemeanor warrants.

By the end of the week, rain and thunderstorms created record-breaking inches of rain for May and sent the homeless to seek shelter under federal, city and local business buildings.

It is not rare for an ambulance to be called to the Civic Center when a person is seriously ill.

At the end of last year, a homeless man died of pneumonia in the hospital.

The city of Santa Ana does not provide a year-round shelter for homeless people.
15 Percent of the homeless population in the United States have been chronically homeless for a year or more.
9 Percent of homeless are veterans, many with  war-related injuries or PTSD.
6 Hundred thousand people in the U.S.  experienced nightly homelessness in 2014.
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