Debate over proposed Irvine homeless shelter
Most of us in Irvine have been lucky enough to avoid the worrisome prospect of homelessness. When many of us have access to a good education and comfortable amenities, it is easy to forget about the less fortunate, which is why we must come together as a community to provide a temporary home for those who have yet to find one.
In Orange County, there are currently an estimated 4,500 homeless people, and a significant majority of those individuals also have children under the age of 18. A large factor contributing to the rising population of homeless people is the high cost of living in Orange County, which is nearly 43 percent above the United States average. For many families, such an expensive lifestyle becomes unaffordable, especially with children to support, forcing them into homelessness when they can no longer meet the raised costs of utilities.
For this reason, it is essential that we create housing for individuals who currently live on the street, and Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is working to establish a temporary homeless shelter near the Great Park. The shelter would house up to 200 people and provide them with access to toilets, clean water and food that they currently lack.
The proposed site of the shelter is just south of the Great Park—due to the flat land and smaller concentration of homes—but Irvine residents are concerned that the establishment of a shelter will stunt the development of the Great Park. However, Nelson has assured that the shelter’s temporary nature will prevent this from happening. Although it appears the shelter would interrupt the revenue that comes from the Great Park, a study conducted by UC Irvine researchers has shown that Orange County would actually benefit economically from the construction of a homeless shelter, saving nearly $42 million a year in health care, law enforcement and other expenses associated with supporting individuals without housing. By providing the homeless with proper, clean amenities, Irvine could help prevent them from contracting diseases and infections, significantly reducing the high price of medical services by over 40 percent and saving money for the further development of the city.
Aside from the economic benefits, the most important reason to build a shelter is to honor our duty to help a fellow man. Regardless of whether a person has a home or not, they are still a part of our economy, and as able-bodied individuals in a more stable financial place, we should help put a roof over the heads of those who currently do not have one. In the midst of this debate, it is important for us to consider the challenges faced by the homeless, and what it must be like to struggle for a clean sip of water or prepare to skip a meal for the third time in a row.
No person should have to struggle for a basic standard of living, especially when the community has the ability to help them improve their situation. Therefore, Irvine officials should support the construction of the homeless shelter, because even though they may be temporary, they will certainly serve as a significant step towards solving homelessness in Orange County.
This month, an Orange County supervisor proposed the construction of a series of homeless shelters on city property, including one near the Great Park. The proposed shelter would offer temporary housing to the homeless currently living along the Santa Ana riverbed. But this plan would force those homeless people to confront an ultimatum—move to these shelters or leave Orange County.
The consensus among opponents of the shelter is a question of location; while they may be morally supportive of the idea, many people do not want to bear the burdens of having a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. Shelters give the appearance that a neighborhood isn’t well off, bringing down the local housing prices and making it seem “unsafe.” Property taxes go to funding these programs when they could be used for infrastructure or schools. And parents don’t want strangers possibly harming their kids.
All these are fair points, but there is also an even bigger, hidden cost to having shelters, particularly those that are neglected.
Some shelters, because they lack a substantial budget, create an environment that packs a lot of desperate people into a confined setting, people who are more tempted to steal or harm one another. Additionally, shelters lack privacy and only provide minimal services to their residents. Worse, if residents do not follow every guideline of the shelter to the T, there is nothing to stop those in charge from kicking them back out onto the street.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Homeless shelters are definitely not a bad thing. Many shelters provide more than adequate facilities for their residents, and even those with poor funding or shoddy construction offer individuals a place to live where they are safe from the elements and hypothermia.
But just building shelters alone is not enough to help people overcome poverty. Other programs that help the poor find jobs and permanent places to live should be prioritized because they give individuals the necessary skills to provide for themselves. Irvine has a track record of treating transients poorly or failing to deal with them at all—ever wonder why you never see any homeless people inside Irvine, but you can find them in surrounding cities? It’s not because of magic. Considering that history, the city is unlikely to offer any additional assistance programs just because they create a single homeless shelter. And if just that one shelter is causing hesitation among residents and local politicians, then it’s highly unlikely that more substantial measures await in the future. Shelters need to be created in conjunction with other programs in order to truly get at the heart of the problem posed by poverty and homelessness.