Guest Column: Finding solutions to the homeless issue

A recent federally-mandated January survey of homelessness in Orange County shows that the numbers are increasing.

As reported last month in the OC Register, the county reports that there are some 4,800 homeless people in our county, an increase of 8 percent since the 2015 census.

The survey is called a Point-in-Time Count & Survey, and is required to help the federal government target millions of dollars in federal aid for the homeless.

Last month the county opened its first 24-hour homeless facility, the multi-million dollar “Bridges at Kraemer” shelter and multi-service center in Anaheim near the 91 and Kraemer.

It initially will house and service 100 people, and will reach 200 people once the project is completed.

With thousands more OC homeless residents in desperate need of housing, the county is barely dealing with the problem, even on a temporary basis.

Some local church groups, such as Los Alamitos’ Community Congregational United Church of Christ, try to fill in the gaps. It hosts “Judy’s Kitchen,” a monthly warm meal for homeless residents.

The food provided at “Judy’s Kitchen” each third Saturday of the month is prepared by various local church volunteers, then served by other community volunteers, including the Girl and Cub scouts.

But concerned homeless advocates all know these local noble efforts by churches and other volunteer organizations are not nearly enough.

One OC resident has been floating a novel immediate solution for OC homelessness: creating a County park [“Alfresco Gardens”] exclusively dedicated to the homeless.

The resident, Nancy West, has created a website, and a Facebook page, “Alfresco Gardens,” which describes her concept.

The essence of the proposal is extremely simple: create an outdoor space for the exclusive use of homeless people to camp.

The premise is also simple—OC homeless people are already coping with the reality of their lives by choosing to sleep and live in open spaces—parks, beach areas, freeway underpasses, river beds, storm channels, etc.

The Alfresco Gardens concept would create a homeless park on suitable existing vacant county land.

The park would include tent spaces, bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, storage space, and, most importantly, a service area where government and non-profit agencies could furnish a range of needed services.

This service area could include space for medical services, mental health/addiction outreach and referral, plus food (soup kitchen) services.

The Alfresco Gardens concept would be a low-cost temporary facility for the thousands of homeless in OC.

With the millions of dollars currently spent on expensive buildings to shelter just hundreds of the homeless, it would be wise to immediately spend the necessary funds to establish exclusive parks for the thousands of homeless needing help now.

Homeless parks are not a solution, of course, but they fill the immediate temporary need to seriously address the problem in the short run.