Disney donates $5 million to help fund housing for Orange County’s homeless

The Disney Resort donated $5 million to a revitalized housing trust fund, kickstarting a business-backed campaign to raise cash for housing the homeless, Orange County business leaders said Monday, March 4.

The low-key Orange County Housing Trust, incorporated in 2010 and operating on a small budget, will “rise as a Phoenix” under a partnership between the Orange County Business Council and NeighborWorks Orange County, a nonprofit housing assistance agency, said Lucy Dunn, business council chief executive.

The goal is to make “last-mile” loans available to affordable housing projects that already have secured most of their funding, providing enough capital to push proposed developments “across the finish line,” backers said.

“There has been a heightened focus on the critical issue of homelessness in Orange County,” said Steve Churm, past chairman of the Orange County Business Council board and a new board member of the O.C. Housing Trust. “We as a business community have a responsibility to address this.”

The announcement comes a year after the county’s homeless crisis came to a head, with cities and advocates squaring off in court over accusations of government inaction.

The trust has already committed to funding a four-story, 102-unit affordable housing development Jamboree Housing Corp. is planning at the corner of Manchester and Orangewood avenues, using money from Disney’s contribution.

Disney Resort President Josh D’Amaro hopes the company’s $5 million contribution to the housing trust will spur more companies to donate, saying when Disney acts, others take notice. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

Disney Resort President Josh D’Amaro hopes the company’s contribution will spur more companies to donate, saying when Disney acts, others take notice.

“I feel we do have a responsibility,” D’Amaro said. “I think about Anaheim not just as where we do business, but this is our home.”

Anaheim, the county’s most populous city, has a poverty rate of 16 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county’s poverty rate stands at 11.5 percent.

The reinvigorated housing trust comes to life just as local governments are launching another trust fund to support new affordable housing construction. In September, the state Legislature approved the creation of the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, jointly run by the county and its 34 cities.

Like the housing trust, the finance trust seeks to finance construction of supportive housing for homeless people and affordable housing for low-income residents but with public dollars, said David Kiff, interim executive director of the Association of California Cities-Orange County.

Kiff said the county Board of Supervisors and local cities will be deciding whether to join the new “joint powers authority,” which likely will hold its first meeting in May or June.

Initial funding will come from Proposition 1, the $4 billion affordable housing bond package state voters approved in November, Kiff said. The ballot measure includes about $300 million to support local housing trusts. Additional funding sources include revenue from a newly created real estate document filing fee and matching funds from other sources.

The finance trust “is more about maximizing Orange County’s share of public dollars,” Kiff said. He and others said both trusts are needed because some businesses are reluctant to contribute to a fund run by elected officials.

Leaders of NeighborWorks long envisioned an Orange County trust fund patterned after the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which raises capital from the tech sector and other businesses to help fund affordable housing construction throughout the Bay Area.

Over the past five years, the O.C. Housing Trust leveraged about $1.5 million to finance numerous building projects providing permanent housing for the homeless – as opposed to temporary shelters, said NeighborWorks CEO Helen O’Sullivan, who also is the housing trust’s executive director. There’s no shortage of proposals on the drawing boards that could benefit from additional financing, she said.

The new partnership “will really expand our capacity to help local developers build affordable and permanent supportive housing, which is really much needed,” O’Sullivan said.

Asked why the business community didn’t invest sooner in the housing trust, Churm said, “We just reached an inflection point maybe we weren’t at 10 years ago.”

A UC Irvine study reported two years ago that homelessness costs local government, housing agencies, hospitals and other entities about $299 million a year. Orange County could save $42 million a year in health care, law enforcement and other expenses by placing the chronically homeless in permanent housing, the study concluded.

Local governments also cracked down on more than 700 people camping out along the Santa Ana River, sparking a legal battle before U.S. District Judge David Carter. The case resulted in court settlements to use public funds to create homeless shelters and expand the number of temporary beds while pursuing permanent solutions.

“As businesses, this was not a good economic indicator for Orange County,” Dunn said of publicity the homeless controversies drew.

The UCI study found the vast majority of Orange County’s homeless are longtime residents who ended up on the streets mainly due to evictions, foreclosures, insufficient income or lost employment.

“These are our workers. These are our families,” Dunn said. “Every little piece helps solve the problem.”

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Judge orders Orange County, 3 cities into court over Santa Ana riverbed homeless evictions

A federal judge is ordering Anaheim, Orange, Costa Mesa and Orange County into court to show that local anti-camping ordinances aren’t being used to criminalize homelessness among the hundreds of people being evicted from encampments along the Santa Ana River.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter issued an order Sunday, Feb. 4, setting a hearing for Feb. 13 in a lawsuit filed on behalf of people being displaced.

“The court is concerned that persons who leave or are evicted from the riverbed may subsequently be cited by defendant cities under those cities’ anti-camping or anti-loitering laws, even though those persons may not be able to find a shelter or other place to sleep,” the judge wrote.

Sheriff’s deputies and county workers began clearing the county’s largest encampment on Jan. 22, and efforts have continued to ramp up since then. Homeless advocates and attorneys mobilized, asserting that there isn’t enough affordable housing or shelters to house the estimated 500 to 1,000 homeless people being displaced from the riverbed.

Many homeless people have said they will relocate to parks and streets in Anaheim and Orange, but the cities have said they will enforce anti-camping ordinances.

Sunday’s court order asks the three cities and the county to bring information to the hearing about how many citations or arrests have been made, if any, under anti-camping or anti-loitering laws since Jan. 1.

The order does not prevent the county from continuing to evict riverbed inhabitants between now and Feb. 13.

Attorney Brooke Weitzman, with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, speaks during a press conference at ARTIC in Anaheim on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The group is trying to stop the clearing of tent encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Attorney Brooke Weitzman, with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, speaks during a press conference at ARTIC in Anaheim on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The group is trying to stop the clearing of tent encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The order comes in response to a lawsuit filed Thursday, Feb. 1 by attorney Brooke Weitzman on behalf of seven homeless people. It seeks to block evictions from the riverbed through the issuance of an injunction.

The judge said the court will welcome testimony by parties on all sides of the encampment issue. Issues will include the circumstances that people living on the riverbed face, the county’s process for clearing the riverbed, how much shelter space is available and the number and background of homeless people in Orange County and in the riverbed.

Carter said he will welcome input from veterans’ groups, service providers, organizations that protect and house abused women and other cities affected by the county’s homeless crisis.

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Santa Ana creates homeless czar position as it works to combat growing issue

SANTA ANA – As Orange County municipalities take steps to address growing homeless populations within their borders, the city with one of the largest concentrations is doubling down on its efforts to keep the issue from getting even more out of hand.

Santa Ana council members on Tuesday, Sept. 19, unanimously approved a homeless prevention, intervention and mitigation plan and created a city homeless services manager position.

The move comes a year after the council declared the Civic Center a “public health and safety homeless crisis,” and one week after Anaheim City Council declared a public health and safety state of emergency around the expanding homeless population and plans to move them out of the Santa Ana River Trail where they have settled.

“As they do that,” Councilman David Benavides said of Anaheim, “and other cities take that action, the city of Santa Ana will likely become more of a magnet for folks that are being moved, displaced from those areas.”

Santa Ana council members directed staff to improve internal coordination between city agencies providing services and enforcement to the homeless population and enhance coordination with the county, neighboring cities, homeless service providers and faith-based organizations.

The city also wants to develop a legislative package to solicit federal and state assistance for housing, enforcement and social services needs of the homeless.

“I’ve never seen the homeless problem this bad,” Mayor Miguel Pulido said. “They’re sneaking into people’s backyards and spending the night there. In the morning, sometimes they don’t leave. It’s just way, way, way out of control.”

The council amended its fiscal year 2017-18 budget to add the full-time homeless services manager position at a monthly salary ranging from $9,237 to $11,231.

“This has grown to become such a concern that we need one person that is wholly dedicated to helping coordinate city resources and addressing this concern,” Benavides said.

Santa Ana elected officials have long felt other cities, and particularly the county, have not pulled their weight in addressing the homeless crisis. The Courtyard shelter near the Civic Center is one example they point to.

“We’ve got to push back,” Councilman Jose Solorio said. “We are compassionate; we have done quite a bit. The enforcement piece is easy – it’s the housing piece that’s tough and we need to work together as part of a shared responsibility.”

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Who are the homeless living in the shadow of the Big A? Here are 11 stories

A luxury car drives past Angel Mayfield’s tent in the Santa Ana River homeless encampment. The driver shouts out his window: “Get a (expletive) (expletive) job you (expletive) pig!”

Mayfield has a job. In fact, she has two.

The residents in the camp next to Angel Stadium call their neighborhood “River View Village.”

We spent a week talking to people who live along the Santa Ana River trail. Like any neighborhood, the people are diverse but most share a common goal: they’d rather be paying rent than living in a tent.

Here’s a profile of 11 people who, for now, call it home.

Angel Mayfield is a homeless advocate who lives in the River View Village encampment. "There are so many many homeless people who want to change their lives around but they are defined by their past, not by whom they are now," she said.Mayfield is one of the people who live in the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, CA on Friday, July 14, 2017. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Angel Mayfield (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Angel Mayfield works a minimum of 31 hours a week between her two jobs in retail. She’s a homeless advocate and works as a liaison between her neighbors and Orange County homeless assistance agencies. Most of the residents in the encampment know they can call on her when they need help.

“A lot of homeless people don’t do drugs,  they don’t drink, they don’t have a criminal record or mental illness,”  Mayfield said. “They just can’t find a job that pays enough to afford a $1,400 studio apartment and still have enough to buy food.

“Many homeless people want to change their lives around but they are defined by their past and now who they are now.”

Angela Piefer (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Angela Piefer (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Angela Piefer, 32, lives just north of Orangewood Avenue. Piefer has two jobs. She’s a caregiver and passes out food samples at grocery stores.

Piefer was an alcoholic for eight years. She drank every day. When it got to the point that the whites of her eyes were yellow, her fiance insisted that she go to the hospital to detox. Her liver was almost completely shut down. Six months ago, her liver was almost back to 100 percent healed.

“I’ve been clean and sober for a year and nine months. If I can get more hours I can make enough to leave here,” she said, “And I’m never coming back.”


David Doan (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
David Doan (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

David Doan, 48, is a mechanical wizard. He built a shower for the residents by tapping into a back flow water supply for a drinking fountain. He’s set up a couple of solar panels to power two 12-volt batteries. Residents can use the contraption to charge up their cell phones.

Doan was vice president of an Anaheim company that remanufactured toner cartridges until 2001. He got into a tussle with his father (the company president) and was let go. Soon after, he went through a divorce and was living out of his car. He got a job with U-Haul but suffered a heart attack in 2009.

“I’ve applied for social security benefits but have been denied three times,” Doan said.  “Now have high blood pressure and have been diagnosed with cataracts. With my pre-existing medical problems, it’s been tough to get a job.”


Bruce Bishop (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Bruce Bishop (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Bruce Bishop, 57, became a union ironworker in 1981. He was making $67.50 an hour when he got a DUI and lost his driver’s license. He got tangled in DMV red tape and ended up spending more than $6,000 trying unsuccessfully to get his license reinstated, register his car and pay for insurance. Eventually, he lost his union card when he wasn’t able to pay his dues.

He’s working day labor jobs now and some day hopes to get his license and union card back. When waits to get picked up for a job on Orangethorpe Avenue he can look toward State College and see a 14-story building he helped build 30 years ago.

Markus O'Neill (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Markus O’Neill (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Markus O’Neill, 37, worked at Outback Steakhouse for 13 years. He advanced from dishwasher to head cook at the restaurant in Garden Grove. He got a better job offer to work in the HVAC business and made enough money to rent a three-bedroom home in the Moreno Valley. He filed a complaint about a foreman and got fired. “I guess I complained about the wrong guy,” he said. Soon after, he got into a car accident and broke four ribs.

“I’ve tried to get back into bartending. But to be honest, it’s tough to get a bartending job these days if you’re not a beautiful woman,” O’Neill said. “I’m a fairly handsome, well-spoken guy but I’m not very voluptuous.”

He said that even if was able to get a job bartending it still wouldn’t be enough to rent an apartment.

“My situation is not permanent,” he said. “Yes, I’m homeless but I’m not helpless or hopeless.”

Michael Sage (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Michael Sage (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Michael Sage, 49, spends some of his time delivering donated five-gallon water jugs to other residents in Riverview Village. Sage worked in maintenance at Saddleback Hospital for 15 years.

“Then I got an offer in 2001 to go up to Northern California to become a project manager for a company that produced fire-proofing material.  When the company moved to Orange County it failed. After less than a year, it went bankrupt,” Sage said.

He started doing handyman work until he got a staph infection from a piece of asbestos that got lodged in his leg.  He doesn’t have any medical insurance so he’s been struggling with medical bills.

“This isn’t a permanent situation,” Sage said. “I’ll get back on my feet again.”

Kyle Bartholomew (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kyle Bartholomew (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Kyle Bartholomew, 30, was doing handyman work in the Humboldt County area. He got a job offer to come to Orange County so he could work with his dad. He got laid off and turned to drugs.

He said he’s clean and sober now. He’s been living in the encampment for three years. Bartholomew spends his days making custom bicycles.

“I’m homeless now but this is just temporary — just temporary.”

Kimberlee McKee (Photo by Bill Alkofer ,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kimberlee McKee (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Kimberlee McKee, 30, is almost always lively and jovial despite a hard-knock life. McKee worked as a cashier at Disneyland for five years until she got fired for petty theft. Another petty theft conviction landed her in prison for a year. She was staying in a sober living facility in 2010 until she got kicked out for having a squabble with a roommate.

She lived in a homeless encampment in Fullerton before moving to Riverview Village. She’s since been diagnosed with epilepsy, diabetes and has a bipolar disorder. She’s been working with the City Net homeless collaborative to find more permanent housing.

Thomas Estrada (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Thomas Estrada (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Thomas Estrada has been at River View for only a month. He works construction, primarily as a framer. He had a full-time construction job but when business slowed he got laid off. He was living with his fiancee and her daughter. That relationship fell apart and she left him.  His landlord said she was uncomfortable renting to a single man so he got evicted from his apartment.

He’s confident that business will pick up again and he’ll be able to leave the encampment and move back into an apartment.

Sher Stuckman (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Sher Stuckman (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Sher Stuckman, 59, has worked in a precious metals refinery and a diesel engine factory.

“I’m handy with anything mechanical,” she said.  After being laid off, she was hit with a host of medical problems.  She had a stroke followed by seizures and then developed a blood clot in her leg. Stuckman is a breast cancer survivor.

“Every time I apply for a job I get severe anxiety. I get stressed out and I always blow it,” Stuckman said.

Two weeks ago she moved to the encampment to get away from it all for a while. “I’m going to try to relax for a bit and spend some time writing my novel.”

Stuckman said that finds that golf is very calming. Most days she takes a club down to the riverbed and works on her sand game.

Roman Neely (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Roman Neely (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Roman Neely, 23, has been at River View Village for a little over a month.

“I was living in a homeless encampment on private property with my girlfriend in Corona,” Neeley said. “It was called Devils Den. Supposedly it was haunted,” he said. “We got kicked out. My mom and stepdad bought us a tent and we moved here.” He left the girlfriend.

“I got hooked up a crazy, evil woman. But I still love her,” he said.

Neely said that he’s sworn off women for a least and year and he wants to find a job working construction.

“I’ve got a relative with a car so maybe I can get some manual labor jobs and hopefully some day get an apartment. I know one thing for sure. I’m never going to resort to panhandling.”

Some residents in the Santa Ana River homeless encampment call the area River View Village.The homeless encampment is along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, CA on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Some residents living along the Santa Ana River bed’s homeless encampment have named the area “River View Village.” (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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