BUENA PARK AND NORTH SPA CITIES AWARDED 2021 HELEN PUTNAM AWARD
City of Buena Park won a Helen Putnam Award for the Buena Park Navigation Center
Buena Park, Calif. – Today, at its annual conference, the League of California Cities announced that Buena Park, along with 11 other North Service Planning Area (“North SPA”) cities, won a 2021 Helen Putnam Award for the Buena Park Navigation Center in the category of Housing Programs and Innovations.
According to the County of Orange 2019 Point in Time Count Report, 6,860 people in Orange County alone experienced homelessness, a 43% increase from 2017. Of these, more than 3,900 persons were unsheltered, battling hunger, adverse environmental elements, and other dangers of living on the streets. “The startling and saddening homelessness statistics show that accelerated efforts to support those in need is crucial to our community,” said Buena Park Mayor Connor Traut. “Living on the street, in cars, and in unsafe encampments is not okay. We had to provide a comprehensive approach to address this pressing issue.”
In 2018, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter divided Orange County into three SPAs – North, Central and South – to devise a regional approach to safely disperse several local homeless encampments. Buena Park, along with the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Cypress, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Orange, Placentia, Stanton, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda comprise the North SPA. Complying with recent case law, Judge Carter mandated each city provide adequate shelter beds before dispersing homeless encampments and enforcing anti-camping laws. With the costs of land acquisition, construction, and management of such a facility in mind, the North SPA City Managers decided two regional facilities, accessible by all 12 cities, would be the best solution.
Beginning in late 2018, the City held several publicly-noticed meetings to obtain feedback from the community about a proposed navigation center at a City-owned property in the southern portion of the City. Staff identified a vacant City-owned site in the heart of the City’s industrial area, previously used for City storage and project staging. In spring 2019, the City Council approved the property to be the official site of the Buena Park Navigation Center. “The City Council knew in order for the Navigation Center to be successful, we needed the support of the community,” stated Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Park. “By holding multiple public meetings, town halls, and Council meetings, we were able to receive input from residents and make the best decision for our community.”
During this time, North SPA City Managers met to discuss the regional project. Since both navigation centers would be managed by all 12 cities, a Memorandum of Understanding was critical in detailing each city’s roles, responsibilities, and costs. This cost-sharing method resulted in a multi-faceted funding structure that included a HEAP grant, County of Orange General Fund monies, Housing Successor Agency set-aside funds, SB-2/PLHA funds, and other individual city contributions. In the end, the total construction cost for the project was just over $10.1 million.
In summer 2019, Buena Park started construction with a sustainable approach. Instead of the traditional construction, the City utilized repurposed freight shipping containers for the facility’s main structure. The containers were pre-fabricated off-site while demolition, grading, and foundation work took place at the location – saving valuable construction time.
The 15,000-sq. ft. Buena Park Navigation Center proudly opened its doors in July 2020, to a limited number of clients (due to COVID-19 protocols). Currently, the facility welcomes homeless clients, who are referred by local police departments and homeless outreach workers from all 12 cities. Mercy House, a third-party operator, manages the facility on behalf of the North SPA and works with KCS Health Center, a local community health clinic, to provide medical services.
To date, the Buena Park Navigation Center has assisted nearly 400 people with wraparound services. Several of these clients have been able to successfully transition into transitional and permanent housing. The success of the Buena Park Navigation Center demonstrates a regional approach to a complex issue such as homelessness is attainable with the right partnerships, communication, and resources. “Taking a regional approach has been instrumental in overcoming the compromising factors involved in reducing homeless,” indicated Buena Park City Manager Aaron France. “This methodology consolidates costs while serving one common goal: to help transition unhoused individuals into permanent, supportive housing.”
# # #