By Wujun Ke
A group of around 100 Irvine residents protested outside the Irvine Civic Center on April 10 in a continued effort to prevent emergency homeless shelters in Irvine. The demonstrators held signs saying “Election is coming, we will remember” and “OC children deserve better.” Organized through the Chinese-language WeChat group WeIrvine and the Facebook group Irvine For Responsible OC Solutions (formerly Irvine Tent City Protest), the protesters began to chant “No more shelters” among other slogans after the Irvine City Council meeting adjourned early.
After an estimated 623 homeless residents were evacuated from their tents in a two-mile strip along the Santa Ana riverbed in February, Orange County officials have struggled to find adequate shelter and services for the newly displaced. To hasten a solution, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has threatened to temporarily forbid city governments from enforcing anti-vagrancy and anti-camping ordinances. Public outrage followed when the county supervisors announced that they would use county funds to build emergency shelters in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach.
The decision to build shelters in their famously safe city has led Irvine residents to take the issue into their own hands. Last month, a strong showing of Irvine protestors at the Orange County Hall of Administration led the OC Board of Supervisors to scrap plans to site emergency shelters in the three cities, but no alternative solutions have been proposed.
While the protest at the Hall of Administration was hailed as a success, organizers are determined to continue agitating for Irvine to remain shelter-free. On the day of the most recent protest, the parking lot was packed with sparkling BMWs, Lexuses and Mercedes, a familiar sight in a city whose median income is $90,585. The bulk of the demonstrators were Chinese immigrants who had learned about plans for the protest on WeIrvine, a Chinese-language social media network serving about 40,000 members.
According to an article published last week in the Los Angeles Times, the Irvine protesters succeeded, but at a price. Some critics accused Irvine residents of lacking compassion, while others pointed to the self-interested “NIMBY” (“not in my backyard”) mentality that shuffles responsibility for the county’s homeless from wealthier cities to lower-income ones like Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Charges of NIMBY-ism as well as distrust in government officials to solve the problem in their favor have shifted Irvine’s anti-homeless activist strategy towards a more solution-oriented approach. The newly renamed Facebook group, Irvine For Responsible OC Solutions, rebrands the group as advocating for both home-owning residents and homeless populations. The group description proclaims that “The community members of Irvine are not against helping the homeless, in fact, it is this very reason that we are against this “temporary” relocation proposal.”
Virginia, a protester who moved to Irvine last year and who chose not to disclose her last name, claimed that some homeless people simply do not want to be helped. “They don’t want to go to shelters,” she said, mentioning that many of the homeless are drug addicts.
Unite OC, a website spearheaded by the organizers of the Facebook group, shares the sentiment. On the About page, the site proclaims, “The simple fact of the matter is that a good portion of these people simply do not want aid or assistance.” Unite OC wants to develop solutions and find the necessary resources for those who do want assistance, with the addendum that drug addicts and the mentally ill should be kept away from residential communities.
According to the “no tent city” organizers, this solution involves building a homeless shelter at a more suitable location. The proposed solution would site a homeless shelter in Los Pinos Conservation Campus, a former juvenile detention center located 40 miles away from Irvine.
While the United OC website asserts “we are committed to providing real solutions,” it remains to be seen whether Irvine’s “no tent city” activists will bring about responsible — and compassionate — solutions for the homeless.