In April, hundreds of Irvine residents publicly protested a plan to place emergency homeless shelters in Irvine.
According to the OC Register, Orange County supervisors had voted in March in favor of spending $70.5 million on permanent housing for the homeless and on temporary homeless camps in Irvine, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Niguel. Supervisors admitted that they had misallocated money that could have been used for homeless housing – tens of millions of dollars that had been promised to go into mental health funding. The shortcomings of the county in controlling the finances dedicated to the homeless were brought to light and a growing and persistent underclass in OC called for increased efforts on building new homes for those who had been displaced time and time again by local discontent.
This initiative was not the first of its kind this year. On February 13th, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter ruled unorthodoxly in a case involving the homeless illegally camped on the banks of the Santa Ana river, and secured for them several hundred vouchers so that they could temporarily stay in motels. The county agreement was made hurriedly, however, and it posed many challenges that were not completely accounted for. According to the OC, “the special needs of those with physical and mental disabilities or substance abuse issues, people who lack acceptable identification, and the difficulties of persuading motel owners to accommodate a population not used to living indoors or, in some cases, following rules,” were some of the challenges that organizers faced. Regardless, it was progress to an extent, and represented important community values that people needed reminders of.
The county took a step back when there was strong pushback against the recent proposal by Irvine residents, and county officials had to withdraw from the plan to relocate the growing homeless population in Santa Ana to shelters in the three cities.
The protests revealed a certain apathy among locals toward issues outside of Irvine, as well as outrage at the thought of dealing with problems they believed were not their own. This seems to have been the case more than once, and it presents a fundamental problem. For instance, the top historic events that shaped Americans’ lifetimes today – the frequent mass shootings, gay marriage, the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, the tech revolution, President Barack Obama’s election, 9/11 – they were not part of a new “American Experience” for the youth population in Irvine. In 2016, Irvine became the largest city in the continental United States with an Asian American plurality – 5.8% of the U.S. population is Asian, 17% in OC, and 38.2% in Irvine. Living in a famously safe, clean, family-oriented, master-planned city with a strong emphasis on higher education, it may be possible that growing up, young Asian Americans were naturally distanced from glaring social issues and thus, sheltered from the antagonisms that plague the rest of the nation. Homelessness in OC was not treated with absolute relevance, as long as they weren’t the ones who were homeless. On top of that, older Asian immigrants believed that homeless shelters would threaten their quality of life in Irvine.
There is a lot that can be taken for granted when all of the wars are fought in other countries, figuratively and literally. Many in Irvine grew up with a black president and same sex marriage as a constitutional right. In an increasingly multiracial and multicultural world, living amongst many races and many cultures seems to be less of an issue than in previous generations. Racism and gender inequality are not themes that everyone can personally relate to, growing up in Irvine. Political and economic turmoil even, did not reach Irvine as it did in other parts of SoCal, and some were born in the aftermath. But it may also be that younger generations distanced themselves; by not taking interest in the news, by being unable to identify issues within their community, by not serving their community to the best of their ability.
Hopefully, Irvine residents will one day realize that humanitarian efforts in Irvine will not necessarily infringe on their quality of life or the safety of their children. The fight against homelessness is a necessary cause, one that requires empathy and contribution from all sides.
Jennifer Park ,Grade 12
University High School