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Anaheim Is Opening A 200-Bed Homeless Shelter In Time For The Holidays, But Will People Go?

Paul Velez said living in a shelter is like having no rights. "You can't come and go as you please." (Emily Elena Dugdale/ Last)
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Anaheim is scheduled to open a temporary 200-bed homeless shelter Thursday near Angel Stadium to get people indoors before the holidays -- and the bad weather.

Less than two weeks ago, this warehouse off of State College Boulevard was empty. On Tuesday, forklifts sped along the dusty concrete floor and construction crews worked quickly to build white room partition walls. They were still installing plumbing in the mobile bathroom trailers and painting the wooden wheelchair ramps outside.

In one corner, a local artist was busy at work on a large blue mural featuring a quote from Maya Angelou.

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A large mural featuring a quote from Maya Angelou is almost finished in the room designated for families (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

It's a race to the finish line to get this shelter ready for its residents, said Anaheim City spokesperson Mike Lyster.

"We're trying to make this as inviting as possible because we know it's a difficult situation, life on the street," he said. "And it's a difficult decision to make to say 'Yes, we'll take your offer of help.'"

The 27,000-square-foot space has been partitioned, with separate rooms for men, women and families.

Each partition has two to four single beds and small nightstands with drawers. Residents will also be allowed to bring their pets into the rooms.

The shelter is divided into rooms partitioned off in groups of single beds. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

There was a lot to do before the doors open, but Lyster said that's not stopping the team from adding meaningful extras like colorful walls, potted plants, a 65-inch flat screen TV, and even a dog run.

"Now of course, this isn't a hotel," he said. "But the idea is we want to provide some of the niceties of home that we all kind of take for granted for somebody who's been in a difficult situation on the street."

It's been almost a year since the Santa Ana riverbed homeless encampments in Orange County were cleared out. There's been a lot of legal wrangling since then over what to do with the county's growing homeless population.

Anaheim agreed to build 325 shelter beds after it was hit by a federal lawsuit after the Santa Ana evictions. Meanwhile, in a separate case, a federal appeals court ruled that homeless people can't be prosecuted for sleeping in public spaces if there aren't enough shelter beds.

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The temporary shelter slated to open on Thursday is an emergency shelter that will be open only about 90 days. The city is currently building two other temporary shelters to replace this one: a 200-bed shelter with the Salvation Army slated to open in January, and a 125-bed shelter operated by The Illumination Foundation to begin in February.

Paul Leon, CEO of the Illumination Foundation, stood amid the construction chaos at the newest shelter. He said he was proud of the quick work they did to get the shelter functioning, and that opening this one is the first step to getting chronically homeless people into permanent housing.

"We're saying to them, 'Just come in, try us, stay awhile. It's going to be a rainy season. Let us talk to you.' And hopefully we'll gain their trust," he said.

But local homeless residents in nearby Maxwell Park aren't happy about the shelter.

The large park borders a public library whose sidewalk is covered with tents.

Paul Velez has lived on and off in Maxwell Park for the last four years. And he put things pretty bluntly.

"Shelter or jail. That's what it boils down to," he said.

LeAnne Cooper is pre registered to enter the shelter on Thursday. "We can't do much but follow their orders," she said. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

Some at Maxwell Park say programs that try to help homeless people always fail, and they just end up back here.

Velez said police have shown up multiple times telling residents they'll need to be out by Friday. He said he thinks the city is just opening shelter beds so they can crack down on homeless encampments.

But Velez has been in a shelter before and said it feels like you have no rights there.

"You can't come and go as you please. You gotta be shuttled in. The food is deplorable," he said.

Sitting next to Velez was Jimmy Conde, who said he'd run a homeless shelter for three years in the past. He had another interpretation of shelter life.

"This is going to feel like jail probably, huh?" he asked Velez.

Velez shrugged. "It's just warehousing you until they see fit," he said.

But both men are out of options. They'll go to the shelter on Thursday.

LeeAnne Cooper will also break down her tent and go to the shelter with her two dogs and husband. But she said it's not by choice.

"We can't do much but follow their orders," Cooper said. "But it's not against the law to be homeless, and they're trying to make it against the law."

She said after the new shelter fills up, she's not sure where the others will go.

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