California cities are turning industrial spaces into homeless shelters

Two real estate developers in California are transforming huge industrial spaces into shelters for the homeless.

The developers – brothers Ryan and Jeremy Ogulnick – created their first hideaway in just under a month in the Orange County town of Santa Ana. The effort helped the city deal with the homeless crisis. The brothers then repeated the process in the nearby towns of Anaheim and Fullerton. They were able to convert properties in shelters within months.

In each case, the Ogulnicks also made a profit for themselves.

These shelters gave people like Roland Flores a second chance. The 48-year-old lived with his grandmother as a caretaker and lost the house when she died. Today, he lives at the Fullerton shelter. During his nine-month stay at the shelter, he was able to seek treatment and obtain his birth certificate and social security card.

“They give me the tools I need,” Flores said of the shelter workers. The non-profit group Illumination Foundation runs the Fullerton shelter.

Ryan Ogulnick says he could build 50 such shelters in Southern California if the money were available. Instead of rental the spaces to private companies, they are rented to a city or to homeless service providers.

“It’s such a simple solution,” says Ogulnick.

His company, Vineyard Development, invested $9.2 million to rebuild the new Carnegie Santa Ana residential center over a nine-month period. The company will lease to the Illumination Foundation and the city for $44,000 a month when it opens next week.

As quick and simple as they are, these emergency shelters are only a short-term solution. Affordable housing is limited and housing costs continue to rise. Some critics worry that Orange County officials are contents with a solution that does not lead to permanent housing for the homeless.

“It is very clear that the strategy used right now in Orange County is more about looks than solutions,” attorney Brooke Weitzman said. She is a co-founder of the ELDR Center, a law firm representing people who are homeless, elderly or disabled.

“We need more housing”

Last year, the United States had about 7 million short units of enough affordable housing, said a study by the National Coalition on Low-Income Housing.

In Los Angeles County, the homeless population is estimated at 66,000. Orange County, just south of LA County, has about 7,000 homeless people. Nearly 60% of the homeless population is unhoused, according to the latest full count of 2019.

Shelters have increased in number after a 2018 federal appeals court ruling prohibits police from stopping people on the street if a community does not have enough shelter beds.

Emergency shelter beds in Orange County grew 159 percent from 2015 to 2021, according to Orange County Management Information System’s homeless data. However, permanent supportive housing, which provides housing as well as social services, grew by only 13 per cent over the same period.

“Instead of building…affordable housing, what they did was throw in mass shelters,” Eve Garrow said. She is a homelessness policy expert and activist with the ACLU of Southern California.

Paul Leon is President and CEO of the Illumination Foundation. He agrees that more housing is needed, but he said many people are not ready to immediately go off the streets to be responsible for a home.

His foundation operated all the shelters built by the Ogulnicks. The offers basic support services such as health and mental health and substance abuse counselling.

The Ogulnicks transformed a former engineering firm in an industrial area into the 150-bed Fullerton Navigation Center. In an effort to reduce complaints neighbours, bans on accommodation residents to walk and get out. This keeps them out of public view. Shelter vehicle drivers pick up residents and exit through a side door.

Leon said most of those receiving support leave the streets to settle in their homes. Some of those who cannot go to jail or return to the streets.

“It tells us that we need more housing,” Leon said.

Weitzman has concerns about Ogulnick’s claims about the speed and cost-effectiveness of mass shelters. She said the best solution for the homeless has always been housing.

“When people are homeless, they are those homeless people,” Weitzman said. “And when people are housed, they are your neighbors.”

I am Ashley Thompson.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted for VOA Learn English.


words in this story

convert -v. to change (something) into a different form or so that it can be used in a different way

to rent -v. To use (something) for a period of time in exchange for payment

to rent -v. To pay money in exchange for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else)

complaint – nm a statement that you are unhappy or dissatisfied with something

resident – not. someone who lives in a particular place

affordable – adj. can be paid; cheap

attempted – not. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of fabric (such as canvas or nylon) and is supported by poles and ropes

strategy – not. a plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

Bernard P. Love