Empowered By Orange County United Way

Businesses helping solve OC homelessness issues

By Lucy Dunn and Helen O’Sullivan

A pervasive and spiraling problem of homelessness in Orange County continues to dominate media headlines and water-cooler discussions even after a year of progress.

With a goal of housing 2,700 people experiencing homelessness, Orange County’s elected officials have stepped up to fund new shelters, Orange County United Way’s public education campaign reminds us of the facts and economic impact of deferring solutions, health organizations have made remarkable advances expanding mental health services for the most vulnerable, and national attention around hundreds camped along the Santa Ana River — promising otherwise to come to a community near you — have abated for now.

But shelters, while important, are temporary solutions, not permanent housing. They are a Band-Aid and, frankly, a by-product of the overall lack of housing supply needed. Gov. Gavin Newsom has stated clearly his goal to increase the state’s housing by 3.5 million homes to meet jobs and population growth in California. All Orange County cities, not just a few, must push to do their part. As a wise man once said, “Many hands make light work.”

In that spirit, Orange County’s business community will engage as well. Orange County’s world-class quality of life, growing and diverse economy and economic strength is what differentiates us. It’s a key driver in attracting top talent, high-paying jobs and retaining best-in-class employers. Homelessness is not a positive indicator, to say the least, and as OC United Way reminds us, these are family members, workers, neighbors, students and veterans. They are us.

So how can the private sector help? Certainly in advancing OC United Way’s efforts, as well as in praise and support for those brave elected officials doing the right thing in their communities — advancing more housing projects — even over the noisy objections of NIMBYs.

Further, two leading authorities, Orange County Business Council and NeighborWorks Orange County, have come together to re-establish and pump up the volume on another non-profit asset, the Orange County Housing Trust (OCHT).

OCHT follows an effective model that has celebrated nearly 20 years of making affordable and permanent supportive housing a reality in the Bay Area. Since its formation in 2000, Housing Trust Silicon Valley (HTSV) has invested $131 million in programs that created nearly 15,000 affordable housing opportunities for its community. The trust also raised $50 million dollars in less than two years from the business community to help end homelessness. HTSV is well on its way.

And while small today, OCHT will also focus on affordable and permanent supportive housing throughout Orange County through private capital contributions, wise investments, grants and project loans, leveraging public funding efforts already underway, including the good work of the Association of California Cities — Orange County and its new Orange County Housing Finance Trust (AB448).

Already, Disneyland Resort has proudly stepped up as a leader in the business community in support of this effort, committing the first $5 million to OCHT’s efforts and asking other business leaders to join with it.

OCHT has identified its first project with an investment in an affordable and permanent supportive housing project on Manchester Avenue in Anaheim led by Jamboree Housing, with land contributed by the city of Anaheim. Once complete, the project will deliver 102 housing units for families, some making $32,800 or less annually. That’s just one project with many more needed to end homelessness in every Orange County community.

Indeed, many hands make light work: public leaders, agencies, healthcare, business, private partners, nonprofit organizations and more have aligned to advance an important test of any great community: How did you care for your most vulnerable? What did you do to end homelessness?

For more information on how your business can contribute to the success of OCHT’s mission, contact us. Lucy Dunn is president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council. Helen O’Sullivan is president and CEO of NeighborWorks Orange County.

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