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California Cities Turn Industrial Spaces into Homeless Shelters


FILE - Roland Flores, 48, sits on a bed at the Fullerton Navigation Center, a homeless shelter in Fullerton, California, U.S. March 11, 2022. (REUTERS/David Swanson/File Photo)
California Cities Turn Industrial Spaces into Homeless Shelters
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Two property developers in California are turning huge, industrial spaces into shelters for homeless people.

The developers – brothers Ryan and Jeremy Ogulnick – created their first shelter in just under a month in the Orange County city of Santa Ana. The effort helped the city deal with its homeless crisis. The brothers then repeated the process in the nearby cities of Anaheim and Fullerton. They were able to convert properties into shelters in a matter of months.

In each case, the Ogulnicks also made a profit for themselves.

Such shelters have given a second chance to people like Roland Flores. The 48-year-old was living with his grandmother as her caretaker and lost the home when she died. Today, he lives at the Fullerton shelter. During his nine-month stay at the shelter, he has been able to seek medical treatment and get his birth certificate and Social Security card.

"They're giving me the tools that I need," Flores said of the workers at the shelter. The non-profit group Illumination Foundation operates the Fullerton shelter.

Ryan Ogulnick says he could build 50 such shelters across Southern California if the money was available. Instead of leasing the spaces to private companies, they are rented to a city or to homeless services providers.

"It's such a simple solution," Ogulnick said.

His company, Vineyards Development, invested $9.2 million to rebuild the new Santa Ana Carnegie Shelter over a period of nine months. The company will rent it to the Illumination Foundation and the city for $44,000 a month when it opens next week.

As quick and simple as they are, these emergency shelters are only a short-term solution. Affordable housing is limited and housing costs continue to rise. Some critics are worried that Orange County officials are content with a solution that does not lead to permanent housing for the homeless.

"It's very clear that the strategy being used right now in Orange County is more about appearances than solutions," said lawyer Brooke Weitzman. She is co-founder of ELDR Center, a law office representing people who are homeless, older, or disabled.

'We need more housing'

Last year, the United States was about 7 million units short of enough affordable housing, said a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Los Angeles County, the homeless population is estimated at 66,000. Orange County, just south of L.A. County, has a homeless population of about 7,000. Nearly 60 percent of the homeless population is unsheltered, the latest complete count in 2019 found.

Shelters increased in numbers after a 2018 federal appeals court ruling banned police from arresting people on the streets if a community lacks enough shelter beds.

Emergency shelter beds in Orange County increased 159 percent from 2015 to 2021, according to Orange County Homeless Management Information System data. However, permanent supportive housing, which provides housing as well as social services, grew by just 13 percent over that same period.

"Instead of building actual…affordable housing, what they've done is throw up mass shelters," said Eve Garrow. She is a homelessness policy expert and activist at the ACLU of Southern California.

Paul Leon is president and CEO of the Illumination Foundation. He agrees that more housing is needed, but he said many people are unprepared to go immediately from the street to being responsible for a home.

His foundation has operated all of the shelters built by the Ogulnicks. The foundation offers support services including healthcare and mental health and drug abuse counseling.

The Ogulnicks turned a former engineering company in an industrial area into the 150-bed Fullerton Navigation Center. In an effort to reduce complaints from neighbors, the shelter bans residents from walking in and out. This keeps them out of public view. Shelter vehicle drivers take residents in and out through a side gate.

Leon said most people with support move from the streets to homes of their own. Some of those who do not may go to jail or return to the streets.

"That tells us we need more housing," Leon said.

Weitzman has concerns about Ogulnick’s claims about the speed and cost-effectiveness of mass shelters. She said the best solution to homelessness has always been housing.

"When people are homeless, they're those homeless folks," Weitzman said. "And when people are housed, they're your neighbors."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

convert - v. to change (something) into a different form or so that it can be used in a different way

lease - v. to use (something) for a period of time in return for payment

rent - v. to pay money in return for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else)

complaint - n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something

resident - n. someone who lives in a particular place

affordable - adj. able to be paid for; not costly

tent - n. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of cloth (such as canvas or nylon), and is held up with poles and ropes

strategy - n. a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

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