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Housing is a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

With National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week taking place earlier this month, we acknowledge there are a number of homeless men, women, teenagers, children and entire families in our community.

Every two years, the County of Orange conducts the Point-In-Time (PIT) Count, a census administered on a given night of the homeless in our communities. The PIT Count, which represents a snapshot in time, revealed a troubling trend in 2017 – a 7.6 percent increase in the number of homeless, with a total of nearly 4,800 individuals counted.

Orange County has diligently and compassionately tried to stem this rising tide by building a system of care that meets the needs of this complex and diverse population. Our efforts include increasing shelter capacity, outreach and services, including the following initiatives, among others:

  • Establishment of The Courtyard, a partnership between the county and The Midnight Mission that provides 400 shelter beds every night


  • Completion of phase one of Bridges at Kraemer, the county’s year-round emergency shelter that provides 100 beds; Phase two, which will provide a total of 200 beds, is slated for completion in May 2018


  • Enhancing our efforts to ensure public safety in large encampments


  • Increasing outreach and service linkages for the homeless


As impactful and encouraging as these efforts are, an urgent need remains for more permanent supportive housing.


A recent cost study conducted by the University of California-Irvine and Orange County United Way indicated that $300 million was spent on homelessness within one fiscal year between the county, cities, hospitals, law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations.** Providing stable housing with case management, social and medical services to the most medically fragile homeless individuals would reduce the cost of serving that population by 50 percent per capita, at $100,000 a year for the unsheltered versus $50,000 a year for those in housing.

Chronically homeless individuals with disabilities and who lack stable housing often do not receive the appropriate preventative care or supportive services. These individuals, who are covered through public health plans, are likely to struggle with severe medical needs, which often results in costly emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

The average cost of health care services for chronically homeless individuals who lack stable housing was $98,000 annually – versus $26,158 for the chronically homeless who are placed in housing programs.

Providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless population with medical disabilities provides a compassionate long-term solution that helps individuals improve their conditions, while reducing our overall costs.

In June, I introduced a measure that dedicates $5 million in Mental Health Services Act dollars toward creating additional housing and supportive services for the disabled homeless who suffer from mental illness.

As our community moves forward developing solutions to our growing homeless crisis, I am committed to working collaboratively with stakeholders and my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to develop the system of care and increase the housing available to our homeless residents.

**Editor’s Note: A link to the cost study titled, “Homelessness in Orange County: The Costs to Our Community” can be found in this column online at

 Supervisor Lisa Bartlett represents the 5th District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which includes the cities of Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, (portions of) Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

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