Homeless Shelter Town Hall Spurs New Questions

New questions about the approval process are aired at Monday's townhall meeting at the FPL.

East Fullerton residents and the County clashed at a town hall meeting Monday at the Fullerton Main Library over a proposed homeless shelter located in a former furniture store that would replace the current seasonal shelter at the Armory.

Hundreds packed the library’s conference room with many arguing against the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous decision to purchase property at 301 S. State College Boulevard in January, noting that a year-round homeless shelter would affect the quality of life in their neighborhoods and schools.

OC Human Rights Commission director Rusty Kennedy moderated the panel which included 4th District Supervisor and shelter proponent Shawn Nelson, Larry Haynes, director of Mercy House, which operates Fullerton’s current emergency homeless shelter at the Armory and Fullerton Police Department’s homeless liaison Corporal J.D. DeCaprio.

Kennedy and the panel went through more than 40 questions, with safety and a lack of communication between the County and resident being paramount issues among residents living close to the proposed shelter. Some also questioned whether ex-convicts and undocumented immigrants will get services at the new shelter.

“We follow the law,” Haynes said to the audience. “If someone is not eligible, we will follow the law.”

Haynes went on about helping ex-convicts, noting that Mercy House doesn’t give up on anyone and believes in “salvation for all” people.

Throughout the town hall meeting, many in the audience heckled at the panel as they tried to explain how the shelter would be run and its impact on the neighborhood. When one resident heckled Supervisor Nelson, he shot back.

“Sir, your Tourette’s syndrome doesn’t do you well,” Nelson told the heckler to the shock of the audience.

Another tense moment happened when Fullerton Collaborative director and panelist Pam Keller introduced herself, saying that she understood the residents’ concerns and alluded without explanation that she was once part of an “angry mob.”

“We’re not an angry mob!” one attendee shouted. "We're not a mob!", another attendee replied.

Keller retracted her “angry mob” statement immediately after, saying it was a bad choice of words.

One resident, Lorri Argueta, berated the panel for not considering the safety of children attending Commonwealth Elementary school.

“It’s not about the adults, it’s about the children’s safety!” Argueta exclaimed to a thunderous applause.

Argueta told The Fullertonian that she is collecting 1,500 volunteers to prevent the homeless shelter from opening near Commonwealth Elementary.

Reaction from attendees to the town hall meeting was mixed.

“This was a poorly run town hall meeting,” said Brandon Price, a resident who lives in close proximity to the shelter. “[Nelson] was rude, unprofessional and he also basically called me a liar when he denied that [Vanguard Commercial president] Cameron Irons got a sole-source contract, but he actually did.”

Price was referring to his allegations that Irons got a sole-source contract on the State College property because of his friendship with Nelson.

One attendee, J.C. Martinez, said that residents’ concerns about the homeless shelter in their neighborhood showed that they were “people living in a box” and supported the proposal.

“[The shelter] is totally making change,” Martinez said.

The County is working on a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Orange County and the proposed shelter on State College is part of their efforts. Fullerton’s current homeless shelter at the Armory, operated by Haynes’ Mercy House organization, serves 200 homeless and is only open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. from November to April. 

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