The cities of Fullerton and Buena Park are actively working on the formation of a central hub designed to improve the efficiency of homeless outreach.
Kellee Fritzal, the deputy director of community and economic development at the city of Fullerton, said homeless outreach will no longer be contracted through an outside non-profit agency as it had in the past.
Project HOPE, an acronym for Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement, comes as the four-year funding for the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force is set to expire at the start of June, as stated in Fullerton’s Budget Act of 2017.
“What we found out is that non-profit, their staff was maybe in Fullerton one day, then they were in another city,” Frtizal said. “We didn’t have the ongoing, proactive outreach. They just jumped on the latest hot spot, or the latest complaint.”
Fritzal said the main goal of HOPE is to develop dedicated headquarters for flexible regional homeless response calls, with specialists from local organizations like the Orange County Health Care Agency or St. Jude Medical Center, as well as local health service providers, such as Lynch Ambulance. Additionally, outreach workers, case managers and homeless liaison officers from partner police departments would also be in demand, she said.
Fullerton has already made offers for two part-time case managers and agreed to contribute a city-owned building adjacent to St. Jude’s Hospital, which is expected to act as the central hub for Project HOPE, although it is old the building is currently being brought up to code, Fritzal said.
Buena Park City Manager Aaron France said the plan on their end was to move away from using the police in dealings with people experiencing homelessness unless there is a safety risk.
“The hope is that we don’t need a police presence on homeless calls unless one is warranted,” France said.
France said the memorandum of understanding that will finalize the deal is being drafted by Buena Park’s city attorney and meetings between the two cities have taken place at the city manager, police chief and staff levels.
The final draft will need to be approved by Fullerton’s city attorney, as well as both city councils and city managers, France said.
Corp. Billy Phu, the Fullerton Police Department’s public information officer, said police Chief Bob Dunn has met with other city officials and police chiefs to discuss contributions on the side of law enforcement in order to better support the case managers and outreach workers that would lead HOPE’s efforts.
“There are times in which our homeless neighbors may be violent or may need some law enforcement aspect,” said Phu. “We don’t want to put our partners with the medical field or social working field in peril to deal with those issues and not have the tools to do it.”
Phu said he left the possibility open that the HOPE building that’s supposed to be donated by Fullerton may not be ready in time for July 1.
“There’s a lot of obstacles there,” Phu said.
In the event that Fullerton is not ready to move forward by that date, France said that homeless outreach in Buena Park would likely be headed by a female community service supervisor currently employed by the city.
In addition to the memorandum of understanding, Fritzal said that there is interest in forming a joint powers authority, Phu said positions might be occupied by high-ranking officials of partners such as chiefs of police or hospital directors.
Phu said that Buena Park could hypothetically contribute an employee meant to lead the HOPE center as part of the memorandum of understanding agreement.
Fritzal said there is no concern that Project HOPE will face any resistance, despite the firing of city manager Ken Domer on April 27.