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 shelter in just under a month in the town of Santa Ana, Orange County. This effort has helped the city deal with its homelessness crisis. The brothers then repeated the process in nearby Anaheim and Fullerton. They were able to convert properties into shelters within a few months.

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

Such 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 get medical 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 operates the Fullerton Refuge.

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

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

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

As simple and quick as they are, these emergency shelters are only a short-term solution. Affordable housing is limited and housing costs continue to rise. Some critics fear 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,” said attorney Brooke Weitzman. She is co-founder of ELDR Center, a law firm representing people who are homeless, elderly or disabled.

“We need more housing”

Last year, the United States was short of about 7 million affordable housing units, according to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

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 increased in number after a 2018 federal appeals court ruling prohibited police from arresting people on the street if a community runs out of shelter beds.

The number of beds in Orange County emergency shelters increased 159% between 2015 and 2021, according to data from the Orange County Homeless Management Information System. However, permanent supportive housing, which provides housing as well as social services, only increased by 13% over the same period.

“Instead of building real…affordable housing, what they’ve been doing is building 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 prepared to leave the streets immediately to become responsible for a home.

His foundation operated all the shelters built by the Ogulnicks. The foundation offers support services, including health care and mental health and addictions 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, shelter is forbidden residents to enter and exit. This keeps them out of public view. Drivers of shelter vehicles let residents in and out through a side door.

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

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

Weitzman is concerned about Ogulnick’s claims about the speed and cost-effectiveness of mass sheltering. She said the best solution to homelessness has always been housing.

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

I am Ashley Thompson.

The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning 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 against 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 – nm someone who lives in a particular place

affordable – adj. can be paid; cheap

attempted – nm a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of fabric (such as canvas or nylon) and is supported by poles and ropes

strategy – nm a detailed plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time


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