Differences in city and shelter codes pose conflict for homeless in OC

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Church gives back to homeless community
(Wendy Chavez/ Daily Titan)

Homeless individuals in Orange County often confuse respective city codes and best practice policies within shelters, said Curtis Gamble, a 58-year-old activist.

Best practice policies are unofficial shelter rules that are widely accepted as procedure because they’ve proven to be effective in the past. These policies vary among shelters and do not always follow city code.

Gamble, a former homeless individual, attended a Sept. 18 Fullerton city council meeting regarding the appointment of a community advisory board member for Bridges at Kraemer Place, a 24-hour emergency homeless shelter facility in the city of Anaheim that serves homeless single men and single women in the North Orange County area.

Homeless shelters like Bridges at Kraemer Place, have come to adapt best practice procedures.

In Anaheim, shelters must admit people on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to the city’s municipal code. However, Fullerton’s municipal code does not explicitly state how people are admitted.

According to the City of Fullerton website, municipal codes are rules that are designed to protect citizens from health and safety hazards and establish the uses permitted in certain neighborhoods.

Fullerton municipal code also states that there must be a minimum of eight parking spots for bicycles available at emergency shelters, while the Anaheim municipal code says that bicycle racks must be provided by the facility but does not list the specific amount of spots required.

Gamble said codes should be consistent with other cities and shelters to prevent individuals from unknowingly making mistakes. For homeless people traveling from place to place, Gamble said distinguishing between the two can be difficult.

“I’m looking for awareness just as much as consistency of the codes,” he said.

University Police Captain Scot Willey said most homeless people are not moving around every day, usually they stay in the same area and will learn what the rules are for their local shelter quickly.

At times when codes are unclear, transients may face police citations or become involved in an altercation with officers, Gamble said.

“Best practice (policies) work well in the office setting when you come up with the idea, but it doesn’t work that well when you’re out there in the streets and you’re faced with the police officers who don’t know anything about it,” Gamble said. “The worst scenario is that it ends up being like a Kelly Thomas situation.”

Kelly Thomas was a homeless man who was killed in a parking lot at the Fullerton Transportation Center after a confrontation with police officers in 2011.

Providing more transparent information to transients is another challenge police officers face, Willey said.

“How do you do that to a population that is literally transient, they’re moving from one place to another. You never really know who’s coming and going, that’s a huge challenge,” Willey said.

Ruth Cho, outreach coordinator for H.I.S. House, a Homeless Intervention Transitional Shelter and House in Placentia, said people who work with homeless people need to be well-versed in the resources offered to them.

“In emergency shelters, some of those workers are young kids. They’re just working in a job where they don’t know about these resources,” Cho said.

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