Local News

Homeless Crisis Has Many Faces in Fullerton

Fullerton is suffering a housing crisis where our teachers, police officers, retail workers and many others are not able to afford housing, close to where they work, and more of our vulnerable populations are finding themselves homeless.  Our population is aging and will be comprised of fewer working aged families, more retired seniors.

Fullerton is suffering a health crisis with a growing number of opioid addicted residents ending up on the streets, homeless.

Fullerton is suffering an economic crisis as more and more of the jobs in our region do not pay enough money for a family to afford housing, so commute times get longer, and more find themselves homeless.

The Hammer Comes Down on NIMBYism

The ACLU brought suit against the County of Orange for enforcing anti-camping and other ordinances targeting the homeless for removal, and won.

Federal Judge David Carter took unusual action of bringing together the cities and county and to pressure them to come up with solutions.  The settlement agreement to this suit was joined by a number of additional cities, such as Fullerton, who were genuinely interested in humanely addressing this intractable problem.

Essentially, the judge forced the County of Orange to find or provide shelter for every homeless person removed from the Santa Ana Riverbed.  And further required all cities to provide shelter to most of the identified homeless individuals before enforcing any anti-camping or like ordinance.

On December 4, 2019 the City of Fullerton in partnership with the Illumination Foundation removed all homeless individuals who had been camping along Gilbert by Valencia and placed them in shelters, for the short term.

Fullerton and the North County Special Planning Area

The County facilitated the organization of Orange County into 3 SPA’s.  And these became the collaborative planning areas for the provision of shelter, services, and housing.  The North SPA and Fullerton have been leading the county in addressing homelessness.

The North Spa includes:  Anaheim, Orange, Villa Park, Los Alamitos, Cypress, Stanton, La Palma, Buena Park, Fullerton, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Brea and La Habra.

Together the cities of the North SPA funded the Bridges at Kraemer Comprehensive Shelter which is open now, and are supporting Shelter/Navigation Centers in Buena Park and Placentia scheduled to open in Feb and May of 2020.  Fullerton is also moving forward on a Shelter/Navigation Center that will include Recuperative care in partnership with the Illumination Foundation.

Residents and activists urge Fullerton City Council to approve a recupertive care/navigation center at the January 21 meeting.

Fullerton Homeless Plan Committee

The City of Fullerton appointed a Homeless Planning Committee comprised of diverse faith community representatives, business people, St Jude Hospital leadership, non-profit shelter and service providers, residents interested in homeless issues, as well as, Fullerton College and CSU Fullerton representatives.  Staff support was provided by City Homeless Care Coordinator, Briana Stickney.

I was honored to chair this committee and we met every other Tuesday since August, learning from each other and bringing in key informed sources to share their insights including the Rebecca Leifkis, Housing and Homeless Resources Manager, Police Chief Robert Dunn, Affordable Housing Expert Cesar Covarrubias, OC Homeless Care Coordinator Susan Price, and City Manager Ken Domer.  Each meeting was attended by members of the public who also participated in our deliberations including residents, clergy, educators, advocates, homeless individuals, business people, and service providers.

What We Learned 

Our study, hearings, discussions and deliberations led us to an understanding that solving the homeless problem is politically difficult and expensive.  But not taking action is even more expensive, considering the political and legal backlash, as well as growing human cost.

  • United Way Cost Benefit Analysis reported the ANNUAL cost of homelessness in OC to be about $300,000,000 between City/County, Hospitals and Housing Agencies.

Point In Time Count recorded in the North SPA:

    1. 1,596 Unsheltered Homeless
    2. 1,169 Sheltered Homeless
    3. TOTAL HOMELESS in North SPA = 2,765

Police Chief Dunn told us that we could not arrest our way out of homelessness.  The court has been clear in protecting the rights of homeless individuals, being on the street is not a crime, camping on public space is not a crime, and even drugs and other minor crimes are now only enforced with Citing and Releasing.

Building Emergency Shelters alone would not solve the problem.  Our shelters are short term solutions for folks experiencing homelessness.  BUT after the initial 90 or 120 days, they have to find permanent housing, or most will be back out on the street.

  • 64% of Orange County Jobs to not pay enough to afford rent on a 1-Bedroom apartment

Unfortunately, our City Councils- Responding to our voters Views, have not been building housing for all our residents.  While we build plenty of high-income housing, we build little housing affordable to our growing population of low wage workers:  retail, e-commerce, service, hospitality, even teachers, police, clergy, OUR CHILDREN, have a difficult time finding housing they can afford in and around Fullerton.

  • CityNet conducted a 2018 Survey of Homeless Individuals and found:
    1. Half  over 50 years old, seniors
    2. 45%  white, 28% Latino, 12% African American
    3. 78%  Male
    4. 66% NO income, 26% less than $12,000/year
    5. 70% some health insurance
    6. 48% were Permanently Disabled
    7. 46% reported mental illness
    8. 41% reported struggles with addiction

Lack of Affordable Housing Causes Longer Commutes = More Smog, Children left without adequate supervision, workers experience more absenteeism, and there is an overall decline in productivity.

Many Homeless Individuals are newly homeless, pointing to the need to Prevent loss of homes.  Rental assistance, emergency aid, rent stabilization for mobile home parks.

Outreach and Assistance can identify some who can quickly be rehoused, preventing a cycle of homelessness from setting in.  Safe Parking for those living in their cars can help get some folks back on their feet and into housing.

Permanent Supportive Housing is critical and good for the communities where it is developed.  Yet when we try to build it, we have the irrational fears of neighbors rising up and shooting down projects.  Take a look at ACOF units at Orangethorpe and Raymond to see how nice these units can actually be.  AND with the supportive element, many individuals living with Mental Illness can get their lives back on track and become productive members of our community.

  • United Way cost benefit analysis reported that:
  • Permanent Supportive Housing cost $51,567/person VS.
  • Homeless on the Street $100,759/person.

Very-Low Income Housing is essential.  We have folks working full time at minimum wage who cannot afford to rent an apartment and feed their families. 

  • Renters need to earn 3.6 times the state minimum wage to afford the average monthly rent of $2,225.
  • Lowest Income Renters spend a median of 78% of their income on rent

We also have folks who are permanently disabled who will always need rent subsidies to survive, and we should provide our share of that housing as well.

  • Regional Housing Needs Assessment, is a statewide analysis of the housing needs of each community based on jobs, birthrate etc.  It is composed by SCAG.

Fullerton’s housing need over the next decade:  2,973 units of Extremely Low (30% of median Income), Very Low (50% of the median income), and Low (80% of median income) income housing.


When did it become acceptable for our senior citizens, who have worked their entire lives….to live on the streets?

When did we agree that our commitment to Veterans whose PTSD and other injuries resulted in their return to our community as addicts, ended?

How long will we sit idly by and elect folks to office who appeal to our fears, and encourage us to turn our backs on those in need?

Our current City Council has been doing a good job in addressing this troubling issue, there is a long road ahead and we all need to get behind our city’s efforts to create a future for our town.

Rusty Kennedy is the Chair of the Fullerton Homeless Plan Committee, charged by the City to develop a comprehensive plan to address homelessness on a collective impact basis in August 2019.  He previously served as the Chair of the Fullerton Mentally Ill Homeless Task Force, after the death of Kelly Thomas.  Kennedy is the Founder and retired CEO of OC Human Relations a non-profit organization.  He is a lifelong resident of Fullerton and one of the founders of the Fullerton Observer community newspaper.

1 reply »

  1. Great article!

    I would like to propose next steps for Fullerton City Council:
    1. Suppprt rent stabilization for mobile home parks.
    2. Re-agendize Keystone permanent supportive housing
    3. Remove 1990’s City Ordinance that de facto criminalizes homelessness by ticketing those sleeping in public spaces
    4. Revisit new ADU rules to ensure they will be used for long term affordable housing and not for short term rentals to tourists