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Wed, 16 Jun 2021 03:29:27 -0500
2018-02-09 Print

Orange County's Homelessness Crisis Can Be Solved

Community Leaders Learned Nation Best-Practices in Homelessness and How they Apply in Southern California


Irvine, CA – Illumination Foundation (IF) and hundreds of local advocates for the homeless came together at a presentation and panel surrounding the growing homelessness population throughout Southern California. Robert Watts, CEO of National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and Dr. James J. O’Connell, Founder and President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, two nationally recognized experts in the field, presented their perspective on the issue. Watts and O’Connell were among the first in the country to begin addressing health care needs first and applying an integrative approach to help the most vulnerable homeless. Their consensus: homeless can be solved, but we need a collaborative voice on national issues of housing and health care.

“We are gathered to address the biggest social crisis that we are facing as a modern society. We need city, we need county, we need sponsors, we need the public to understand homelessness. Nobody can solve this alone. We need all nonprofits to work together to get more support and have a synergetic force instead of competing,” said Paul Leon, CEO and Founder of Illumination Foundation.

Robert Watts, CEO of National Health Care for the Homeless Council spoke about the disconnect between current wages and housing is the most prominent problem for most families with children experiencing homelessness. “Increasing the supply of affordable housing is a key to ending homelessness, including preventing people from falling into homelessness. Develop new affordable housing is possible if we all, at all levels, work towards to reduce the administrative barriers, the community opposition and the construction costs. Increase Low Income Housing Trust Fund should be a priority for our policymakers,” Watts said.

Watts’ approach to address homelessness includes an analysis of current services and expenses in order to adapt funds and resources into more effective, long-term solutions.

“You need to engage the local leadership, to identify all the individuals who are experience homelessness or are at risk, target and prioritize the housing resources and medical services and a lot of passion and determination to go through all the challenges that are in the way,” he said.
Homelessness is costing taxpayers in health care fees, criminal justice costs, shelter expenses and decrease of the general business. The cities and businesses are complaining that homeless people are turning away clients and tourists, which in turn promotes policies that criminalize homelessness and deepen the crisis.

“The most important reason to end homelessness is a moral cause. We are a society based on some core values as opportunity and fairness. Let’s make these values real and tangible in our day to day life,” concluded Watts.

Dr. James J. O’Connell, known as Boston’s only doctor making house calls to the homeless, is the 32-year initiator behind national sweeping changes in homeless care. Dr. O’Connell shared his personal experiences from over 30 years in the field providing high-quality health care services for the homeless population in Boston. Dr. O’Connell’s experience supports analysis that Recuperative Care centers reduce hospitals stays, hospital readmissions and improves patient health outcomes. There are only about 90 recuperative care centers in the nation and they are a safe, legal and ethical discharge option for hospitals servicing people experiencing homelessness.

O’Connell’s team led the world’s first “Vulnerability Index,” initially developed in the 1990’s upon recognizing that the homeless death rate was higher than any other group in the country. O’Connell’s Boston-based team was also the first to implement electronic medical records (EMR) for the homeless to better coordinate their care across hospitals, shelter clinics and street-team medical and psychiatry work.

Dr. Geeta Grover, Pediatric Behaviorist at CHOC and UC Irvine Health, stressed that ending the cycle of homelessness starts with addressing children’s behavioral and developmental health.

The presenters and panelists concluded that solving homeless is possible, but not easy. It is a complex societal problem that will take work across different sectors of society and we must learn what works and what doesn’t work from other programs in the nation.


About Illumination Foundation: Illumination Foundation is an Orange County-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to providing targeted, interdisciplinary services for the most vulnerable homeless clients to break or prevent the cycle of homelessness. Illumination Foundation pioneered an innovative and cost-effective solution to advance health and housing stability for the chronically homeless community. To date, Illumination Foundation’s housing programs have served 7,843 families and have provided medical and social services to over 20,000 individuals. For more information, visit

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Irvine, CA 92606

Phone: 9492730555