Orange County has the reputation of being undisputedly affluent. It is the place where Newport residents sail their yachts and visit their beach houses on the weekend. But many forget that there are less wealthy areas in the OC that are home to the poor and the struggling. There are issues almost every county faces, and homelessness is one of them. But it is Orange County’s affluent image that has made it hard to face, and subsequently find solutions, for our homeless population.
The Irvine Company is one of the few entities that controls many living spaces in the Orange County area. When land is available, it is taken by companies like the Irvine Company and turned into pricey luxury living spaces. Thus, there is a lack of affordable and dense housing in our area. A Point-In-Times census taken every two years found that in 2017 there were 4,792 homeless people in Orange County, a 7.6 percent rise from 2015. More than 2,500 of those people had no shelter and slept outdoor in vehicles or in other places not intended for habitation.
Not surprisingly, less affluent areas like Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach held the majority of the homeless population, with a community of 700 forming in the Santa Ana riverbed alone. But people in more affluent areas, not in touch with the rest of the county, have taken to protesting the small measures the county has begun to take in favor of trying to get Orange County residents off the streets and into realistically affordable homes.
“Not in My Backyard” is a movement that has gained traction in Orange County as of late. In February, the Democrats of Orange County adopted a resolution that was pro-affordable housing, meaning their platform would now officially push for denser, affordable housing that would protect renters and allow them to live in Orange County. But this wasn’t without controversy. Many opposed it, believing it would destroy the lucrative infrastructure of the county. The protests of many were hidden behind thinly veiled discrimination against the less wealthy now being able to live in areas like Irvine.
These discriminations, I believe, are often based on racism and classism. Orange County is a diverse location, and affordable housing would allow lower-income families of all races and religions to remain in the area, occupying space on very expensive land that companies feel entitled to. Ultimately, these Not In My Backyard protests come from wanting to preserve an affluent image of Orange County that the wealthy have enjoyed for a long time. But trying to ship the homeless out of Orange County doesn’t fix their situation, and forcing them to leave their area does not help them improve their lives. We should be trying to fix our homelessness problem rather than ship it to someone else. These are real people who deserve a solution.
Some of Orange County’s homeless people are students here at UCI. Students have come forward admitting they live in their car and can’t afford the high rent of campus apartments. They are tied to the area in order to complete their education and can’t simply be told they aren’t welcome. On campus, we have tried to help these students by building a larger food pantry and providing them free food. We need to implement these kind of measures on a large scale across the county.
There are real issues in Orange County. The number of homeless residents is rising every year, and soon it will be impossible to ignore, even from a beach house in Corona Del Mar. Those who say, “Not in My Backyard!” are ignoring that the homeless are already struggling right next to them, and they just need help to get shelter and security. The building of cheaper and denser housing would allow more people to transition into Orange County society, and this should be seen as a positive thing. These are citizens and students of Orange County who deserve help in living their life. They are not just a problem.
Claire Harvey is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.