Last night, the Anaheim City Council voted 5-1 to approve a plan for a 200-bed temporary emergency homeless shelter in a vacant commercial building at the corner of State College and Orangewood. The plan is to open the shelter by December 20 and operate it for 60-90 days – until the recently approved Center of Hope and Piano Store shelters open their doors.

In a dizzying example of public policy energy, Mayor Harry’s Sidhu’s temporary emergency shelter project traveled from conception to approval and funding in five days.

Sidhu and other new council members repeatedly praised the work of the previous council in getting the Center of Hope and Piano Store shelter beds in the pipeline, which are expected to open February 1. The temporary emergency shelter on State College is intended to bridge the gap between now and then.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu

“During my campaign for mayor, and even more after Election Night and leading up to our swearing in earlier this week. I had more and more neighbors who felt like they could no longer enjoy our city parks because they could not feel safe with the growing homeless encampments,” said Sidhu.

“People living in Maxwell Park, La Palma Park and Twila Reid Park in particular, contacted me to say the situation was getting out of hand.”

Sidhu also noted that Santa Ana was now able to enforce its anti-camping ordinance after bringing a 200-bed temporary emergency shelter in the space of a month – presenting the danger homeless individuals who didn’t want to enter that shelter would move to Anaheim. That would swell the ranks of city’s homeless encampments before the opening of the Center of Hope and Piano Store shelters allowed enforcement of Anaheim’s anti-camping ordinance to begin.

Sidhu also highlighted the humanitarian aspect of the matter.

“It breaks my heart to think of hundreds of people living in parks in the cold, wet weather this winter and over the holidays,” said Sidhu.

Shelter A Public-Private Partnership
The owner of the State College building, LT Global, is leasing the space to the non-profit Visit Anaheim Cares for free. The city will reimburse Visit Anaheim Cares for up to $600,000 to outfit the space to serve as a temporary emergency homeless shelter. The Illumination Foundation is being contracted by the city to operate the shelter for a per-diem amount not to exceed $805,000.

Earlier this week, the Illumination Foundation was hired by the city to operate a 125-bed Piano Store shelter near Kraemer and La Palma.

Leading Anaheim businesses are pledging funds to offset those costs: the Disneyland Resort, the Angels and the Ducks have each pledged $50,000.  

Anaheim businessman Bill Taormina and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce have been actively working with Mayor Harry Sidhu to put this project together. They will continue raising private funds to offset the cost to the city.

Taormina said the idea for this shelter started when Sidhu returned on Sunday from an extended family trip to his native India.

“The phone was blowing up [Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President] Todd [Ament’s] and my hands the day he got off of his plane,” said Taormina.

Once the 200-bed temporary emergency shelter is opened, the city could begin enforcing its anti-camping ordinance – a matter of great urgency to Anaheim neighborhoods dealing with the negative impacts of homeless encampments

Mayor Pro Tem Jose F. Moreno has been a leading council voice advocating for the homeless, but was the voice of skepticism about the proposal to immediately provide shelter for the homeless from the winter elements – even engaging in some not-too-subtle sniping.

An attorney representing a nearby luxury apartment, The George, read a letter objecting to the project, raising the prospect of legal action that could delay opening the temporary emergency shelter.  

The Angels, who are also next to the shelter site, responded by donating $50,000 to the construction of the shelter.

Moreno asked City Manager Chris Zapata why the city wasn’t leasing the facility itself, rather than Visit Anaheim Cares.

“This is a fast -moving train,” said Zapata. “It’s been suggested with our partners this could happen quicker while we work on other projects – basically oversee and ram-rod this project with city staff to the extent we can but utilize the approach from the private sector to get this done in the next twenty days.”

Bill Taormina later added that having Visit Anaheim Cares be the lessee takes the city out of risk.

Illumination Foundation President Paul Leon urged the council to approve the agreement and assured them it would be an immediate benefit to the city’s homeless.

“We had already started to ramp up for the Piano Store,” Foundation President Paul Leon told the city council. “So the $800,000, again, a lot of that will go over to the Piano Store – we basically got a head start of two days.”

“The costs are security, beds – that we can transfer over [to the Piano Store],” said Leon. “The big cost is temporary showers, toilets, sinks. They’re costly to bring in because they’re all self-contained.

Leon said there will be limited services but they will bring in counselors, provide medical, mental health and drug dependency services and there will be a dog kennel and dog run.

“It will be a safe place, a humane place,” said Leon. He described the current conditions in places like the Maxell Park encampment as a “public health nightmare” and called it “blessing the proposed temporary emergency shelter on State College “a blessing.”

“By the grace of God, and public-private partnerships, this is a blessing to be able to move them in a facility that we can provide as many services as we can, as fast as we can.”

Leon noted while services will be at the standard but not to the extent that will be available at the Piano Store, “they will be safe, people will be treated with dignity, they will be taken off the street.

District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel Opposed
District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel pointed out that  the Piano Store homeless shelter plan approved earlier this week, as well as the city-owned Center of Hope homeless shelter and County’s Bridges at Kraemer homeless shelter are all in his district. He said he has been “deluged” with calls from his constituents over this latest shelter plan, which will also be in District 5.

“I have been deluged over the last three days since this was announced, by my District 5 residents [and] businesses…that there is concern,” said Faessel. “And it’s not a NIMBY concern – I think District 5 has done more than its share. I believe Anaheim has done more than its share.”

“However, I cannot support this based on the fact that I have heard no other options, no other alternatives, no other spaces that this could be put, or any of these could be put, other than District 5,” said Faessel.

Anaheim Businessman Bill Taormina Indemnifies City
In order to overcome concerns about legal costs or unforeseen financial impacts on the city, Anaheim businessman and philanthropist Bill Taormina offered to sign an indemnification agreement and pay any legal costs incurred by the city.

Taormina went even further: if legal challenges delay the opening of the State College emergency shelter after city funds have been spent to convert the space into a shelter, Taormina pledged to reimburse the city.

“I will guarantee that, too. I will guarantee that any penny you spend, if this fails, will be returned in total to the city of Anaheim – including legal fees if Mr. Lyon [owner of The George] sues the city,” said Taormina. “I don’t know what else I can tell you – you have zero risk.”

Taormina’s pledge flipped Moreno from a “no” to a “yes” vote, and the agreement was approved 6-1, with Councilman Faessel opposed.