This week’s California Report Magazine features a conversation with KPCC reporter Jill Replogle, whose three-part “Home Is Life” series is the season opener for the new LAist Imperfect Paradise podcast. We hear snippets from Episode 2, which explores the battle in Fullerton over an effort to build a new apartment complex to get homeless people off the streets.
How to get homeless people into stable housing is a question facing cities in California. But the problem isn’t always finding the land or the money to build permanent, supportive housing—often it’s the neighbours.
David Gillanders leads an organization called Pathways of Hope, which works to end homelessness and hunger in Orange County. He was frustrated with the limits of services for the homeless, which tend not to go far beyond things like church soup kitchens and clothing drives.
“Yes, distributing toys to families is important. Yes, everyone needs to eat,” Gillanders said.
“But it’s literally homelessness. It’s not without soup, you know what I mean? It’s not without clothes. It’s not the lack of a shower. It’s homelessness. Show me how to end homelessness with more than a set of keys, a lease and a place to call home.”
Gillanders led an initiative to build an apartment building in Fullerton to house 60 to 80 chronically homeless people with disabilities, which could include mental illness or substance abuse disorder.
In order to get it approved, the Fullerton City Council told Gillanders he would have to convince the neighbors. But it turned out to be harder than he thought.
“We spent a lot of money buying houses and sending our kids to school and, you know, just living the American dream,” neighbor Stephanie Bromley said. “We feel like our safety and wellbeing is compromised and no one is thinking of us.”
Bromley ran a Facebook group that became a forum for complaints about homelessness in the neighborhood. Bromley said she felt compassion for homeless people, handing out McDonald’s gift cards to people she met in the city asking for money. But she did not support the idea of formerly homeless people living in an apartment building in her neighborhood.
“I’m afraid we’ll bring people in from other towns and then they’ll become our liability,” Bromley said.
Some Fullerton residents express more vicious opinions about their homeless neighbors.