First of all, most anyone that has known me on Facebook will say that I very rarely ask for donations. I plan to make my National Homeless Memorial Day event a yearly effort and that will continue to grow as more and more people get involved and I ask that people please donate and volunteer for my event during the holidays and afterwards partner with me with a common goal of ending homelessness permanently, and I won't ask you for any money while doing it.
I am a formerly homeless person having spent a number of years falling in and out of homelessness in Orange County between 2000 and 2012 and then consecutive years living at the Orange County Civic Center in Santa Ana from 2012 to 2015.
In May of 2015 my wife and I were blessed with permanent supportive housing through the Illumination Foundation based on disabilities I had suffered during homelessness.
While I was homeless at civic center, I spent many of my days at the Public Law Library there conducting research about homelessness including the laws that were impacting homeless person's at civic center. In those first days, many homeless people were being given citations for "camping" or sleeping outdoors in public.
Often police officers and workers from the public works department would come through with large trucks and routinely confiscate the property of homeless people because it was either deemed excessive or because by ordinance it was left or "abandoned" by the owner.
I failed to see at the time, any justice whatsoever in penalizing a person for sleeping outdoors when there was no other place for that person to go. Nor did I see any fairness in confiscating homeless people's property when they had left their belongs unsupervised because they had a doctor's appointment. If you were homeless and searching for work would you take your suitcase, sleeping bag and everything else along with you to a job interview?
I became active with a group of us homeless people at civic center that organized a group called the "Civic Center Roundtable" that began speaking on behalf of the homeless community at civic center publicly at Santa Ana City Council meetings, County Board of Supervisors Meetings and elsewhere condemning policies that were impacting the homeless there.
We met with city and county elected officials, leaders in law enforcement and other government installations that would hear us. At the same time we recruited organizations and members of the greater community for support to make change enough that would have our county and cities treat the homeless more fairly.
We complained to the organizations that were vested in ending homelessness in Orange County that homeless people especially at civic center were not getting sufficient access to the available resources like housing. We recommended to them that it wasn't practical to expect people to visit their offices to apply for services, but rather to go to where we live and find out what it is that we need.
As a result we see today tremendous amounts of "outreach" , that is work performed in the field where homeless people exist. This is due in part to our efforts that made outreach to become known nationally as one of many "best practices" that are proven solutions to ending homelessness across America.
Roundtable members began attending court with those issued camping tickets and were often allowed by judges to comment on cases and so we did. We pointed out that there were no other options for the homeless person but to sleep outdoors because the county did not make sufficient numbers of beds available. We recommended to judges that it may even be a violation of the homeless persons civil rights to uphold a local law that had been struck down in other courts and gave reference to other cases that had previously set precedence to the matter.
To this day, a camping ticket is hardly ever prosecuted at the central courthouse unless there is a failure of the person to appear as ordered by the court with the resulting issuing of an arrest warrant by the judge. Nevertheless, the law remains unchanged in local penal codes meaning it could still be enforced at any time.
On days of the infamous property sweeps at civic center we posted signs in protest. If a homeless person could not be there during a property sweep, a Roundtable member would stay with their belongings and claim it as his own to divert confiscation of the property.
We pressed Santa Ana and county officials for fair alternatives and suggested that places could be provided for homeless people to store their items so that they could travel for appointments and other places outside of the civic center. Groups and non-profits stepped-up and even offered to provide check-in centers for the homeless as places where they could store their possessions.
Today, we see an early model of this at the La Palma Park check-in center currently operated by Mercy House.
The Courtyard facility for the homeless in Downtown Santa Ana that uses an abandoned bus terminal as a place where homeless can store their belongings, connect with resources like housing, get warm meals served by volunteers and even to sleep overnight. More than just a check-in center, Courtyard is a result of the evolution of thinking that began in helping to fulfill some of the needs of our homeless people by providing space to store their personal belongings and developed a facility into a multi-service center that more efficiently addresses all of their needs.