03 Mar Orange County Riverbed: A Lens on Community Public Health Concerns
By Gigi Tsontos, LCSW, MPA
Chief Executive Officer, WTLC
57% of all women who experience homelessness report
domestic violence as the immediate cause of homelessness
1 in 5 homeless youth report being trafficked
I spent Presidents’ Day at the Orange County Riverbed. Many see the tents lining the highway and the streets next to Angel Stadium and the Honda Center but have no idea that over 400 people resided there until the last month when the County Officials moved individuals to hotel beds with what appears to be minimal support.
Having worked in homeless services in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and even Ventura County, I’ve spent hours outreaching, walking in subways, in riverbeds, at shanti towns, and this one really hit home. Having the lens of a service provider who supports survivors of domestic violence and exploitation, I wondered how my presence would impact these individuals. I walked the length of the encampments, spoke to men and women, helped one survivor pack up and carry her 6 bags of luggage to the line for the van for her 30 nights in a hotel. She spoke of her boyfriend who hit her the night before and stole the few dollars she had and her medication. She was tired and just wanted a warm place to rest. Once she was off, I connected with another woman who had left rehab the week before, but with no place to go, she was back in the riverbed. She shared her story while friends checked in with her. Her shoes were left behind because her boyfriend wouldn’t let her take them. She admitted to relapsing just that day; the stress was too much. Another woman shared that she once ran a small insurance agency in the area, which she lost after an accident. She couldn’t think past the end of the day, let alone a month out.
After a long and tiring day, I walked slowly to my car knowing there were hundreds more who would need support, and that although there were people there supporting the transition, we were not doing enough. I posted to social media “it’s an eye opening look at the state of our country.”
In general, 30-35% of those experiencing homelessness, and
up to 75% of women experiencing homelessness, have mental illnesses.
20-25% of people experiencing homelessness suffer from severe mental illness and addictions
Allegedly 732 homeless individuals were given 30 day vouchers for hotels. There are several lawsuits against the county to not close the riverbed, but the plan is to support these individuals into long term housing options.
Please contact your local County Supervisor and elected officials and ask them to support the needs of these individuals, and to support providers in their efforts to reach these people.
Contact WTLC 877-531-5522 to support survivors.