While L.A. County decided this week to keep its winter homeless shelters open through the summer, neighboring Orange County’s two, seasonal, emergency shelters are closing this weekend, as they do every year on April 15.
On a recent night, a security guard checked people in to the armory shelter in Fullerton, a big, open room with sleeping mats laid out side by side.
A man named Bill said he had worked and saved up enough money to pay for a room when the shelter closes.
“As of tomorrow, I’m moving in,” he said.
Another man said he might try the Salvation Army shelter.
But many people will undoubtedly end up sleeping outside, said Eve Garrow, homeless policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“People who are quite vulnerable are facing a real horrible choice right now as the shelters close: look for another shelter when there are a diminishing number of shelter spaces and those were already inadequate to meet the need or try to find a place to stay outside,” she said.
The county’s Fullerton shelter housed up to 200 men and women each night during the winter months, while the one in Santa Ana, reserved for families, generally topped out at 100 people, according to county spokeswoman Carrie Braun, though it’s capacity was 200.
Braun said case managers are working to connect individuals and families with other housing options, ideally permanent ones, “if possible.” She also said authorities are trying to set aside space in another county-run shelter, The Courtyard, which occupies Santa Ana’s old bus depot, for those who will be shut out of the armories.
The Courtyard was opened late last year and is currently operating on a 1-year trial period. The county’s first dedicated, year-round shelter is scheduled to open in Anaheim in early May with 100 beds. A second phase will open up another 100 beds there.
“This year, we’re really better off with the availability of beds being provided by the county than we ever have been in the past,” Braun said.
Still, some 2,200 people sleep outside nightly in Orange County, according to the 2015 Point In Time homeless count, and a similar number sleep in shelters or transitional housing.
While Garrow said the winter emergency shelters should ideally be kept open, it would only be a short-term solution.
“To date, [the county] has spent the lion’s share of its funding on shelter options and literally next to nothing on housing options,” Garrow said. "When we look at the long term, we really feel the county needs to shift its emphasis and start funding permanent housing.”
Last year, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved $8 million in funding to provide permanent supportive housing. That money has yet to be disbursed, but authorities are evaluating several projects that have requested funding, county spokesperson Braun said.