15 May Shelter from the Storm
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When Kelly Thomas, a severely mentally ill homeless man, lay dying in the street after an encounter with police, it was a wake-up call that we need to set aside some of our fears, let go of some of our suspicions, and come together to do a better job of protecting this vulnerable population.
We convened the Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force, which met for 7 months to: study the best practices for protecting the homeless and mentally ill; assess the current non-profit, public and community assets; learn from mental health and shelter experts; and come up with ideas to recommend to the city council.
We learned of the extraordinary collaborative process led by the County of Orange to come up with a Ten Year Plan to eliminate homelessness. Top recommendations of our local task force and the countywide plan were the same, open low-threshold, year-round, multi-service homeless shelters around the county.
Sadly, to date no such shelters have been opened in Orange County.
There is no perfect shelter proposal, location, configuration or idea. They are all flawed, BUT what is even more flawed is the current situation-letting our homeless children, brothers and sisters, parents, uncles and aunts, grand-parents, live and die on our streets.
We now have a good chance to open such a center in Fullerton, but face the opposition of people who want to help the homeless, believe that the mentally ill need to be taken off the streets, but believe that such shelter should be located anywhere, BUT not in my area.
We are all safer when the homeless and mentally ill have such a center. Those in need are someone’s relations. Great shelter operators like Mercy House, Pathways of Hope and OC Rescue Mission are good neighbors. If your child was living on the street, in constant peril wouldn’t you want them to have some shelter from the storm?
Rusty Kennedy is Chair of the Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force and CEO of OC Human Relations.
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