Politics

Orange County hires Long Beach's homeless services coordinator as 'homeless czar'

Dozens of homeless people have made the Orange County Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana their home as the county finds a solution for housing them.
Dozens of homeless people have made the Orange County Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana their home as the county finds a solution for housing them.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Orange County officials hope their latest hire for the so-called “homeless czar” position can do for Orange County what she has done for Long Beach and its homeless population.

Susan Price will become Orange County’s new director of care coordinator, which has been dubbed the “homeless czar” position, according to Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do.

She’ll be charged with the mighty task of synchronizing the county’s social services programs, including health care, that offer something to homeless clients.

“The silo effect is something that is really endemic,” said Do. 

Orange County’s homeless population has grown by about 5 percent over the last two years. It’s evident in tents that are pitched in the grassy areas of the county’s Civic Center, said Do, and the pockets of homeless people taking shelter in other parts of the county.

“That’s kind of a sign of things to come if we don’t deal with this in a more comprehensive manner,” he said.

Price, who currently serves as community health bureau manager for the city of Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services, will start her new job in Orange County on May 27.

She started her career with Long Beach in 2003 as the city’s Homeless Services Division officer.

Do said the county chose to hire Price because of her successes in managing the Continuum of Care in Long Beach, a planning body with 12 agencies that provides emergency shelter, housing and supportive services to the homeless.

Most homeless people are linked to services through the city’s Multi-Service Center, where their needs are assessed and prioritized.

The number of homeless people living in Long Beach has dropped 18 percent since 2011, according to the latest count.

“She is a passionate advocate for the homeless and cares very deeply about making sure we are giving them the best and most effective services,” said David Pilon, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Los Angeles, a nonprofit that offers mental health services to Long Beach's homeless.

Pilon said one of her strengths is convincing homeless services organizations like his to commit more funding and to work with government programs to win federal dollars together. He said Price has effectively convened different homelessness service providers in Long Beach to coordinate services more efficiently.

“Every county struggles with trying to merge those more effectively,” Pilon said.

Last week, Orange County released its request for contract bids to find a homeless services organization to run the county’s first multi-service center and year-round homeless shelter planned for Anaheim. It’ll be one of several objectives in the mission to end homelessness in Orange County that Price will take on.