Royal Dad on Homelessness

Photo Credit: M. Cunningham

Olivia Hennessey, News Editor

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As a part of our ongoing series about the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless encampments, The Royal Reporter has obtained an exclusive interview with an Orange County politico, writer, and Rosary father: Mr. Matthew Cunningham! Besides being the creator and editor of the Anaheim Blog (www.anaheimblog.net), Mr. Cunningham is Sabrina Cunningham ’18 and Ava Cunningham ’19’s dad.

As a longtime political activist and member of Orange County Public Affairs Association Board of Directors, Mr. Cunningham offers a unique perspective on the homelessness crisis.

Photo Credit: M. Cunningham
A woman named Ashley collecting bicycle parts in the riverbed.

What is your involvement with the homeless population in Orange County?

My involvement has primarily been advocating on behalf of homeowners and businesses being negatively impacted by the growth of the homelessness in Orange County. In 2015, I helped organize a coalition of homeowners and business owners deeply concerned about the County of Orange’s proposal for a 200-bed permanent homeless shelter at Kraemer Place in Anaheim. Ultimately, our concerns about how the shelter would be run were incorporated into the shelter’s operating plan and the Bridges at Kraemer Shelter have been a good neighbor in addition to providing opportunities for the homeless to once again become productive, self-reliant members of society.

More recently, I have been advocating for the vigorous enforcement to reclaim the Santa Ana River Trail and the other public parks for their intended, appropriate uses: for the benefit and enjoyment of the recreationist and general public. If you speak to local law enforcement, they’ll tell you that from their experience, most of the encampment residents are there due to drug addiction, or are recently released from prison, or have chosen a�� for whatever reason a�� to live “home free” as some term it.

 

 

Have you visited the riverbed encampments?

Yes, I have a�� many times.

What was your experience there?

They’re not the sort of places anyone should be living. They’re unsanitary and often dangerous for the homeless who are living there. I’ve seen illegal drugs being distributed and used hypodermic needles on the ground. In some sections of the encampments, I’ve felt perfectly safe, while other sections are dangerous even in broad daylight.

Were you able to meet any of the residents there?

Yes, on several occasions. They can be very sad and disheartening encounters.

What were their feelings and opinions about the situation?

Photo Credit: M. Cunningham
The view of the Angel’s Stadium “A” from the encampment.

One older woman had been homeless for many years, and she was OK with living that way. I asked her about seeking assistance or applying for a spot in the Kraemer shelter, but she didn’t want to do that. She was critical of younger, newer homeless people a�� in her view they were mainly interested in partying and doing drugs, and were generally ruining it for her and other what you might call “old school” homeless who tried to keep to themselves.

Another, much younger woman I spoke with was clearly a heavy drug user. For every alternative or suggestion I offered as a means of getting off the riverbed, she had an excuse for why it wouldn’t work or why she wasn’t willing to try it. It was her addiction talking, and it was heartbreaking to see.

Others are running bike repair businesses, or bike chop shops, or are engaged in other activities. They’re like little villages.

What do you believe to be the major cause of homelessness in Orange County?

There’s no one cause. The homeless living in the Santa Ana River encampment are there because of bad choices in life, adverse circumstances, or some combination thereof. Significant causes are drug addiction and the opioid epidemic. There are trash pick up points throughout the Santa Ana River homeless encampments, and the County disposes of hundreds of used hypodermic needles each week. Drug addicts who come from out-of-state to enter Orange County rehab homes move to the homeless camps after washing out of rehab. A significant number are convicts who have been released early from jail or prison under recent laws. Another portion are people suffering from mental illness. According to officials familiar with the situation, the smallest percentage are the working homeless who have jobs but need stable housing. They’re the smallest portion because they’re the most likely to accept help to escape homelessness.

What can we do as high school students to aid the homeless?

Helping people out of homelessness is a matter of the spirit and soul. There are a number of organizations that do wonderful work in helping people escape homelessness and regain their dignity and independence. The Orange County Rescue Mission in Tustin and the Salvation Army are two groups that excel in combating homelessness because they treat the whole person. Mercy House and Grandma’s House of Hope are also great organizations. All of them can always use the help of motivated volunteers.

 

It is clear that homelessness in Orange County is a complex issue, but there are always things that Royals can do to help. Thanks once again to Mr. Cunningham for his valuable insights!

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