How does a City make a positive impact on ending homelessness? Just ask the City of Tustin.
I had the honor of being a Guest Columnist for the Orange County Register’s Tustin News section on Thursday, July 18th. In this particular piece, I invite other Orange County cities to follow Tustin’s lead in serving the Least, the Last, and the Lost:
Many cities in Orange County have taken a regulatory approach to addressing the needs and issues of homelessness. Many of these cities believe that passing special laws restricting the homeless is the solution. I am so thankful that the city of Tustin, my home town, is not one of those cities.
Five acres, two de-commissioned United States Marine Corps barracks, and a parking lot is all it took for Tustin to become home to one of the most comprehensive homeless shelters in the country. That investment in the lives of the homeless has since become the Village of Hope, the flagship location of the Orange County Rescue Mission, where we house up to 192 homeless men, women, and children for up to two years, restoring their dignity and their lives.
The city of Tustin’s leadership around the issue of homelessness continues even to this day: Mayor Al Murray has addressed two hundred and fifty of our graduates and their guests who successfully completed our program and were moving on to new beginnings. The mayor reminded each of them that they were once on the streets, but were now making a positive difference in the world.
You see, just because someone is homeless today does not mean that they will live and die that way. Tonight, in Orange County between six and nine thousand men, women, and children will experience homelessness. It’s a problem that cannot be ignored into nonexistence. But this is exactly the kind of poor leadership we encounter in some of the other Orange County cities.
At the Orange County Rescue Mission we have an entire fleet of mobile vehicles that can provide medical care, free legal resources, and a warm meal. Last year, we served 24,521 meals from our mobile chili van. We could have served even more, but in many cities we are told to stay out. Recently we were contacted by law enforcement of one beautiful beach city and asked not to come back. It’s easier to ignore the 40 individuals sleeping in the park when they are not treated as human beings who need love and a hand up to make a better life. When we’re out on the streets feeding the least, the last, and the lost, we are giving them a hand-up and not handout.
We are building a relationship that, in many instances, will ultimately move them from the poverty rolls to the taxpayer rolls. Our goal, in partnership with local cities and their communities, is to reduce the numbers of homeless. We do that by serving them, not ignoring them – and it’s all free to any city that will have us.
In speaking at our graduation, mayor Murray spoke of the many challenges along the journey that many of our graduates experienced. This included overcoming physical abuse at the hands of others, former drug abuse, alcohol abuse, being victims of crimes, bad decision making, and health care tragedies. The families that experienced these challenges and traumas in their lives are now on their feet, housed in a home of their own, financially self-supporting, and thriving.
All of this would not have been possible if it were not for the generosity of the city of Tustin and its residents. I am proud of the city of Tustin, mayor Murray, its city council and staff for their leadership and vision. Tustin is a model for the rest of Orange County. We in Tustin are ending homelessness one life at a time.
Jim Palmer has been president of the Orange County Rescue Mission since 1992. To learn more, or to make a donation or volunteer, visit rescuemission.org.