A proposal by the Orange County Board of Supervisors to move up to 400 homeless people to a temporary shelter on county land next to the Great Park has led residents of America’s safety city of its size to protest online and at Irvine City Hall.
More than 15,000 people have signed an online petition protesting the proposal since the city posted it on its website last week. Irvine’s City Council has voted to sue the county to stop the potential tented shelters from being constructed there.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors is expected to revisit the issue Tuesday, March 27, with Supervisor Lisa Bartlett announcing Thursday, March 20 on social media that she plans to rescind the action the board took earlier last week to place the temporary shelters at sites in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach.
BehindtheBadgeOC.com sat down with Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel to discuss how moving hundreds of homeless people to tents would impact public safety and how the police department would respond.
How will this proposal impact public safety in Irvine?
The site is not suitable as a place to house hundreds of people under tents. The idea of clustering this vulnerable population, which has complex needs, in a place with no infrastructure or support services, will essentially re-create the public health and safety crisis Orange County experienced at the Santa Ana River.
I am encouraged by the Board of Supervisors’ decision to consider rescinding the action, and I strongly encourage them to do so.
What are you telling residents who fear a repeat of the Santa Ana River, where authorities found 14,000 hypodermic needles and thousands of pounds of human waste?
The safety of our residents is of the utmost importance to the Irvine Police Department. We want to assure the community that if a temporary shelter is established next to the Great Park, we will make every effort to ensure the safety of our community while also respecting the rights of all individuals.
How do you deal with the homeless population now?
We have a well-established track record of offering services and providing support to the homeless and mentally ill in our community. Our Mental Health Outreach Team has been recognized on local, state and national levels. However, we realize that some individuals are not ready or willing to accept assistance. Our team members, which include a police officer who is also a marriage and family therapist and another who is studying psychology, take a case-management approach to mental-health related calls for services. They are paired with county clinicians on a weekly basis to follow up on the initial calls and contacts. In 2017, the team aided hundreds of individuals and families.
What actions should Irvine residents take?
They can attend Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting to express their opinions or sign an on-line petition, which can be found at cityofirvine.org. This issue also provides an opportunity for residents to take stock of their general safety. It’s always smart to keep your doors and windows locked, be aware of your surroundings and, if possible, invest in home security cameras or systems. The police department would be happy to provide a safety consultation to any interested resident or group. Of course, we want residents to know that they can and should call us at 949-724-7000 if they see something suspicious or have any other safety questions. To report a crime in progress, always call 911.
What will the police department do if the county proposal becomes reality?
If a temporary homeless facility is established in our city, we will increase patrols in the area and devote additional resources to ensure our residents feel secure, particularly in the neighborhoods and parks near the county’s 100-acre site where the shelter would be housed. We will do everything we can to uphold the law and preserve the peace, just as we always have. We are prepared and equipped to deal with this issue, should it become a reality.