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The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Fullerton’s race to open new homeless shelters during COVID-19

An increase in those seeking help since COVID-19 started has essential workers aiming to assist each person that comes their way. Photos courtesy of Arman Bryan of Illumination Foundation


The coronavirus has uprooted the daily routine of almost everyone, but it poses an even bigger threat to those without residency. 

Cities and advocates across Orange County have been grappling over the best ways to house the growing homeless population. In Fullerton, the city extended the time its emergency winter shelter is open. There will also be shelters opening in Fullerton and Buena Park this summer. 

The Fullerton Armory, which usually operates seasonally available from December through April, has changed into a 24 hour shelter due to coronavirus. Previously, its residents could only stay overnight to shower, eat and sleep. On March 24 they relocated to Fullerton’s Independence Park. The temporary shelter is scheduled to stay open until June 30. 

Kellee Fritzal, deputy director of community and economic development for the city of Fullerton, said after that, the shelter residents would be transferred to a new shelter opening in Buena Park. 

Fritzal said the Buena Park homeless shelter will offer 60 out of 100 beds as a result of COVID-19 social distancing requirements. “All of the shelters will be operating under the CDC guidance,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Fullerton is still on track to open a permanent 150-bed shelter this summer, as well. 

The shelter, which will be operated by the Illumination Foundation, will include 60 beds for a recuperative care center and 90 beds for a navigation center for temporary housing and wraparound services. In order to be admitted someone must be a client who has been referred by one of Illumination Foundation’s partnered specialists, such as: OC Health Care Agency or the city of Fullerton’s housing and neighborhood services

In times of social distancing and masks it is still important to reach out and ask how people are doing. Photos courtesy of Arman Bryan of Illumination Foundation


“In Fullerton the number of homeless people is hundreds and hundreds,” said Terry Campbell, vice president of marketing and communications for Illumination Foundation.If we can get those people off the streets it creates a better environment for everybody.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Illumination Foundation has been contracted by the Orange County Health Care Agency to supply beds for 2,300 more clients across the county, either through hotels, temporary shelters or permanent housing. According to their website, “This effort will also allow dense shelters to reduce the chances of a surge in COVID-19 cases among the homeless that could also impact hospitals and emergency rooms.” 

Illumination Foundation is also decreasing density in its facilities so everyone is able to socially isolate no matter who they are. “Everybody has that right,” Campbell said. 

There are 6,860 people experiencing homelessness in Orange County, according to the county’s 2019 point-in-time count. In Fullerton, there were 473 people either in a shelter or on the streets, according to the count. 

In January 2018 homeless advocates filed a lawsuit against the county in response to local authorities improperly handling those encamped in the Santa Ana riverbed. In October 2018 they requested the county to provide more shelter and services for them. On Jan.14, a final vote led to the agreement of a $2 million settlement. In the two years since the lawsuit was filed, several cities have opened up shelters. 

“The anti-camping ordinances of each city cannot be enforced if that city does not provide adequate shelter for the homeless in their city. It is up to each city to determine their own path for housing the homeless,” Campbell explained.

Fritzal explains that the county recommends that each service planning area (SPA) “should have a hotel or some sort of shelter,” available for homeless populations most at-risk. Since Fullerton has a temporary shelter and permanent one forthcoming, it is meeting that goal. 

“Fullerton is continuing to step up and work with the county and with the state to make sure that we take care of our citizens. The county feels like they have enough shelters and hotels right now,” says Campbell.