Politics

New OC homeless shelter for families in crisis lowers barriers to getting help

Volunteer Philip Armstrong, left, works with Julia Lewis, 20, during a weekly outreach assessment put on by the Coast to Coast Foundation in partnership with the Fullerton Police Department on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at Pacific Drive Park. Lewis is from New Jersey and has been homeless in Orange County for four years.
Volunteer Philip Armstrong, left, works with Julia Lewis, 20, during a weekly outreach assessment put on by the Coast to Coast Foundation in partnership with the Fullerton Police Department on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at Pacific Drive Park. Lewis is from New Jersey and has been homeless in Orange County for four years.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A new emergency shelter for homeless families that opens Tuesday in Anaheim aims to reduce the amount of time families spend on the streets by using a triage strategy modeled after emergency hospital rooms. Pathways of Hope will provide immediate care and then sort out what specific programs people need.

Up to 13 families facing immediate homelessness can stay in a one or two bedroom, furnished apartment for up to 30 days in a remodeled 10-unit complex run by Pathways.  

“It’s a safe and stable place for them to assess their options with our staff and find the solution that will end their homelessness the quickest,” said housing and community engagement manager Michael Shepherd.

Shepherd said there won’t be a long pre-interview process or wait-list for homeless parents with at least one child, under age 18. 

There are several homeless shelters and housing assistance programs in Orange County aimed at families, but many do not operate like a true emergency shelter.

They may, for example, serve women with children only, which makes it difficult for fathers to stay with their family or single dads with kids. They might focus on domestic violence victims, or won’t accept teenage boys because of liability risks, said Shepherd.

Others shelters ask families to enroll in a long-term housing program, with job or personal finance counseling services, which can take time to process and be a barrier to those who only need is a place to stay short-term.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is that not everybody needs those intensive services,” said Shepherd. “Some people just need a few days to reconnect with family to see where they can move in.”

Instead of “homeless shelter,” Shepherd employs a little marketing by calling the program, a “housing program,”  in order to connect with those who don’t see themselves as being homeless, or transient. 

Homeless families are more than a third of the homeless population in Orange County. When officials conducted its last point-in-time homeless count in January 2013, which tallies the number of people sleeping in shelters and on the streets, they found 1,553 homeless parents and children. That’s about 37 percent of the total homeless population living in Orange County.  

Homeless shelters where single adults – often, single men – sleep can seem unsafe for a parent with small children who may resort to sleeping in a car instead.