Remember those in need at holidays

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

The holiday season brings out the best in our community – a time when so many people look for ways to not only give to their loved ones, but also to those who are less fortunate than themselves.

They serve food to homeless veterans. Stock food banks. Play Santa to kids in need.

These are incredible gestures, which should be celebrated. However, all of us in this community give in even more lasting ways through our tax dollars to support programs that not only provide temporary relief during one season of the year, but provide a pathway out of poverty for families in need.

This week, the Register’s Theresa Walker wrote a harrowing account of the condition of homeless residents during these cold months. Facing “Super El Niño” conditions, many of Orange County’s 15,000 homeless not only have to brave the cold, but also the fear that sudden storm conditions could sweep away their belongings – and them.

During severe weather conditions – and throughout the winter each year – two seasonal cold weather shelters operate in Santa Ana and Fullerton. The county Board of Supervisors just devoted additional resources to expand those programs, and they deserve our support in those efforts.

Throughout the year, public health nurses work to connect homeless residents to the services they need so they can get well and get off the streets. Their work also protects all Orange County residents by identifying and addressing the spread of communicable disease. Social workers connect homeless families to resources, such as housing, medical care and access to other necessities.

Investing in a strong, navigable social safety net ensures so many more have hope and access to changing their lives. We can, and should, do more year-round.

This year, however, we should celebrate a huge step in the right direction. The Board of Supervisors took steps to establish a full-time permanent shelter in Anaheim – a place where families can turn and find a safe place to rest, as well as help getting off the streets. Additional initiatives are being discussed for other cities, including in Santa Ana, and we should support those efforts, too.

Ultimately, once the holidays are over, and our busy lives start again, we can carry the spirit of the season forward by supporting initiatives and programs that help lift people out of poverty throughout the year.

One easy first step relates to programs and initiatives that promote paying working people a wage that ensures they can afford a place to live and food to eat – a living wage. In Orange County, that’s a tough proposition since the current minimum wage is not enough to afford even the most reasonable two-bedroom apartment. (That would cost about $30 an hour, working full time.) Supporting an increase in the minimum wage, affordable housing projects in our communities and those elected officials who continue investing in our social safety net can make a lasting impact.

Maybe then, next holiday season, or a holiday season in the future, there will be far fewer in need of our donations and support. We can solve the homelessness challenge by drawing on our innate compassion and generosity, innovative and wise deployment of public resources, and a community commitment to make the holidays, and every day, bright.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: December 18, 2015