MOORLACH UPDATE — Homelessness Review — December 19, 2013

This morning began with a panel on the topic of “homelessness” at the Voice of OC’s offices with its editorial board. Having worked in the Civic Center for nearly nineteen years and having been a regular donor to the Orange County Rescue Mission for more than thirty years (you may have seen their lunch bags in your Sunday papers), I would observe from my background, that more has been done to address homelessness in the last few years than in all of the others. A “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness” has been drafted. Remember, it is only a plan. A Commission to End Homelessness has been established. It has been populated by specific interest groups throughout the county, including homeless nonprofit CEOs, city council members, city managers, the Director of the County’s Health Care Agency, police chiefs, fire chiefs, et al. Remember, it is only a Commission to collaborate and get all of the stakeholders to work together on this critical topic. The Commission is not a foundation or a ruling body. The Commission has come alongside existing efforts and encouraged efficiencies where possible and appreciated ground up efforts that are addressing the needs of the entire homelessness spectrum where they can be met. And from that standpoint, this recent endeavor of serving on the Commission to End Homelessness has been an exciting and productive one. It is also an evolving one where we are learning from experience and supportive of positive initiatives going forward. The Voice of OC provides its observations in the first piece below.

Barbara Venezia’s column in the OC Register provides more “Food for Thought” on the mentally ill front (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Finding Monica — April 27, 2013). I had the opportunity to meet Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval two weeks ago and from his response to my inquiry, he is very focused on the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital issue and obtaining the proper resolution. He spent quite some time and went into great detail with his response, as the national exposure had garnered has made it a critical concern for the state of Nevada. Subsequent to our meeting, the Sacramento Bee has issued another investigative report on this matter that was quite disturbing. Consequently, I’m sure Governor Sandoval will be all over this matter, again. It’s discussed in the second piece below.

How OC Fared This Year in Fight Against Homelessness


Its hard to argue with the notion that 2013 was a better than average year in Orange County when it came to efforts to help homeless people get off the streets.

January saw the Board of Supervisors taking a step toward providing the county with its first year-round emergency homeless shelter by approving the purchase of a 29,000-square-foot building in Fullerton.

In April, Costa Mesa — a city whose officials have been criticized for hostility toward homeless people — approved plans to partner with Mercy House Living Centers on the development of permanent housing for homeless city residents.

Mercy House also formed a partnership with Anaheim for a pilot project to conduct daily outreach to homeless people at La Palma Park and connect them with services.

In June, the city of Stanton celebrated the first anniversary of the Stanton Multi-Service Center, a trailblazing partnership between the city and the Irvine-based Illumination Foundation that has resulted in its homeless population dropping by more than a third.

September ended with Orange County officials claiming victory as Sacramento legislators passed a bill that allows Proposition 63 money to be spent on Laura’s Law, which advocates say will help get mentally ill homeless people treatment.

"It was another year in the forward movement," said Supervisor John Moorlach, who stepped down this year after three years as chairman of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness.

However, 2013 was also no stranger to missteps revealing the lack of cohesiveness among policymakers and advocates that has long plagued the county’s effort to combat homelessness.

The emergency homeless shelter proposal that supervisors had such high hopes for in January was shot down by the Fullerton City Council in June. And earlier this month, county officials acknowledged the homeless commission had completed only about half of the tasks under its Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness that it set out to accomplish in 2013.

Emerging from this mixed bag are competing visions on how to go forward. Some advocates say the successes and failures of 2013 show that comprehensive solutions like ten-year plans don’t work, while others contend there has been remarkable progress made on a region-wide basis.

Micro vs. Macro

Illumination Foundation CEO Paul Leon counts himself among those believing the former. "I think there have been a couple successes peppered throughout this last year," Leon said. "But overall, the ten-year plan has not moved forward."

Leon says its time for county officials to accept that micro-solutions are working better than the macro-solution. He points to his organization’s partnership with Stanton, which has demonstrated how quickly results can be achieved, even if they are smaller results.

The Stanton program focuses on providing transitional housing to homeless people and then following up with services like behavior therapy and job placement help. This so-called wrap-around approach has taken hundreds of homeless people off the streets in Stanton, Leon said.

"When you present these numbers to funders and cities they get it," Leon said. "We’re optimistic that the nonprofits and cities will work on smaller projects and realize that it is a waste of time to work on a large project that won’t happen in the near future."

On the other side of this thought spectrum is Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House Living Centers, which operates the county’s two emergency shelters.

Haynes says he has no problem with cities providing homeless housing and points to Mercy House’s partnership with Costa Mesa, which could create as many as 50 permanent for the city’s homeless population.

But, he said, there is no getting around the fact that homelessness is a regional problem and there has to be a search for solutions on the macro level.

"The county absolutely has to be a regional player and there has to be a regional strategy," Haynes said. "To do otherwise is entirely misguided — boutique things might feel good but do not solve the overall problem."

Haynes also says the county’s commission to end homelessness has gotten a bad rap and accomplished much more than critics give it credit for.

"In 25 years I’ve never seen homelessness on the radar like it is now," he said. "We have supervisors jockeying with each other to see which district can be the first to open a regional shelter; we have churches stepping up, we have groups basing their programs on evidence and facts, not on ideology."

A concrete result of all of this, Haynes asserts, is fewer homeless on the streets.

"The evidence over the last 4 or 5 years is that the numbers are going down and they are going down in one of the worst economies in recent memory," he said. "And its because we know what we are doing."

Ten-Year Plan ‘Nonfunctional’

Dwight Smith, who runs the Catholic Worker’s Isaiah House in Santa Ana, does not share Haynes’ view of reality regarding homelessness in Orange County. Smith calls the county’s ten-year plan "non-functional" and says that any successes have been sporadic and not caused by any county-led initiative.

"Orange County is way behind and we are still not taking [homelessness] seriously," Smith said.

Smith takes particular issue with claims that the number of homeless in the county is decreasing, which are based on point-in-time counts taken by volunteers during one 24-hour period. Orange County’s point-in-time count this year showed a 39 percent decrease from the count taken in 2011.

The counts, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are used to establish federal funding levels for counties and not meant to be an accurate tally of homeless people, Smith said.

"Any attempt to enumerate the homeless in a single 24-hour period using primarily volunteers is doomed to failure," he said, adding that the closing thing to an accurate account is the nation’s decennial census.

The Attempt in Fullerton

Smith is also critical of Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s attempt to site a homeless shelter in Fullerton, which he equated to "grandstanding." He said Nelson did not do the necessary outreach among stakeholders needed to get the proposal through the Fullerton City Council.

"His effort was a response to town hall meetings and not the result of a concerted effort by a professional planning committee that engages mayors, supervisors, police chiefs and citizen groups," Smith said.

Nelson, who was named this week to take over Moorlach’s seat on the homeless commission, did not return calls seeking comment.

However, Moorlach defended Nelson, saying his colleague "risked a lot of political capital" in his effort and "saw an opportunity and took off."

Regarding the overall approach the county needs to take going forward, Moorlach says his feet are in both the micro and macro camps.

"It was a great idea to get collaboration," he said of the federal government’s program to require that counties adopt ten-year plans in order to receive HUD funding. "But I didn’t see the ten-year-plan as being hands on — if there is any way this will happen it will take individual leaders to work on the issue from the ground up."

Echoing Moorlach is Karen Roper, who was named executive director of the homeless commission after serving on an interim basis for years.

"I would view the system of care as a big Titanic with a small rudder," she said. "The County doesn’t control everything."

Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn.


Trouble ripples from mental facility’s disturbing practice


Of all the columns I wrote this year, the one in April dealing with the reports of Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas dumping mentally ill patients was by far the most disturbing to me.

Apparently readers agreed, judging from emails I received.

To recap, Rawson-Neal had been releasing mentally ill patients by giving them a Greyhound bus ticket and literally shipping them around the country – including Orange County – without notifying mental-health officials in these states.

When reporters at the Sacramento Bee broke the story, they discovered that 1,500 bus receipts had been purchased over a five-year period. “We counted 27 went to Anaheim and Santa Ana, a couple of hundred to L.A. and around 300 were sent to San Diego. Statewide , it was about 500,” Dan Morain, editorial editor of the Bee, told me in April.

Orange County Supervisor John ‍Moorlach brought this to the attention of Orange County Behavioral Health Director Mary Hale, who alerted her staff, other health care agencies and homeless shelters to be on the lookout for any patients identified as being from Rawson-Neal. This week she told me none has been found.

Although Nevada officials conducted an investigation into Rawson-Neal and practices have now changed, the story apparently continues with another equally disturbing twist. On Dec. 15, The Bee reported “that crime and tragedy often followed many of these released patients.”

Tracking Greyhound bus records of patients against criminal databases, The Bee discovered “dozens of apparent matches across the state and nation for arrests involving murder, attempted murder, assault, sex crimes, drug crimes, theft, vagrancy, vandalism and other violations in the counties to which they were shipped in the months after they arrived.”

According to The Bee, a former Rawson-Neal patient stabbed a man to death in Iowa. Another set off explosives in a Tennessee grocery store.

Rawson-Neal also released a convicted child molester who faced criminal charges in Vegas for failure to register as a sex offender in San Diego, according to The Bee. A citywide manhunt ensued after the man failed to register in San Diego and disappeared.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he was “appalled” by the report. “An investigation is underway, and those responsible will be held accountable,” he said through his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner.

Some of these patients’ criminal histories were never identified as such by Rawson-Neal. The article went on to say that psychiatric hospitals, including Rawson-Neal, were not required to do criminal background checks on patients, which I found unsettling. I wondered if that was the case in Orange County, too.

Hale told me that unless a person comes to one of the agencies from the criminal justice realignment program – which releases nonviolent offenders from the state prison system – the county does not do background checks.

Now I understand patients’ rights, but it would seem to me a question or two about if someone had been arrested or convicted of a crime might be a good idea on the admission form for these county agencies.

Moorlach has been a strong proponent of mental health reform in the county, pushing for Laura’s Law – which would allow for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment or forced anti-psychotic treatment for those needing it – and getting a grant from Senate Bill 82 for more staffing to assist with psychiatric emergencies.

Laura’s Law is named for Laura Wilcox, 19, who was shot and killed in 2001 by Scott Harlan Thorpe, a 41-year-old who had resisted his family’s attempt to force psychiatric treatment on him.

When I called ‍Moorlach, he’d just met with representatives from several Orange County hospitals, who talked about the need for a new mental health facility here. ‍Moorlach said he was told emergency rooms are seeing more and more psychiatric patients who can’t be treated and are just released. Or they remain in the ER for days until a bed in a proper facility can be found.

Coincidently, ‍Moorlach had the opportunity to meet with Nevada’s Sandoval at the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport two weeks ago. Sandoval was informally meeting with a group of business people and opened the floor to questions.

“So I launched in,” ‍Moor‍‍lach said.

He mentioned that as Sandoval is trying to get Orange County residents and businesses to migrate to Nevada, he was also exporting individuals to California from Rawson-Neal. He asked Sandoval to comment on this.

“He claimed that the transfers were humane and that individuals were sent to family members at their request and that he has allocated $30 million to improve this situation,” ‍Moor‍‍lach said.

But that doesn’t seem to be what The Bee continues to uncover.



December 18


Brianna Bailey’s “The Political Landscape” column was titled “Activists want golf course – AirFair says purchasing the back nine would help the cash-strapped county.” Here is a summarizing paragraph:

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach said Wednesday that he didn’t see any land sales or annexation plans on the immediate horizon.

December 19


During my office’s annual Open House, a guest enquired about a book in my bookshelf. I informed him that the books on the two shelves were a collection that included me somewhere between the covers. Thanks to the County’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, I have found myself in a lot of financially related books. There are also some from local authors, including Bill Lobdell and his 2009 publication of “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace” (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Losing My Religion — March 17, 2009). Bill interviewed me while he was the editor of the Daily Pilot to promote a need for a strong religious reporter at the LA Times.

Here’s some of what he wrote in his book: “I wanted to show that some of the best stories in the paper could be found on the religion beat—dramatic tales that were so good they couldn’t be confined to the religion-page ghetto on Saturday, but would be sprinkled throughout the paper, including the front page. A few weeks later, on December 19, 1998, I awoke to the sound of the newspaper hitting my walkway with a thud, and I jumped out of bed and walked outside to get my hands on it. I opened the paper in the pre-dawn gray, lifted out the Metro section, and turned to B4. There it was, my column profiling John Moorlach, the county’s treasurer-tax collector who a few years earlier had been the only person to predict the $1.5 billion Orange County bankruptcy. Though it was never reported at the time, Moorlach says he gained his financial wizardry from the Bible. As a believer, I loved the idea that Moorlach’s reliance on the Bible might have helped him, somehow, to predict the county’s shocking meltdown. Yet as a journalist, I also was drawn to the debate it would generate. I knew Moorlach’s admission would drive nonbeliever’s crazy—for them, it was like having a government employee consult an astrologer to determine where to invest tax dollars. I took a middle ground, believing that Moorlach’s basic financial principles were likely gleaned from the Bible but his ability to spot the impending bankruptcy was due more to his knowledge of Wall Street investing principles than to anything he found in Proverbs. Moorlach’s success was clear, yet believers and skeptics had no trouble explaining it from entirely different points of view. I knew in my gut that this type of controversy was deeply engaging—and that there were many more stories like this out there. I had struck a rich, largely untapped vein of journalism for which I had been searching.”

Without further ado, here is Bill Lobdell’s initial “Religion” piece, “Moorlach Invests Much Confidence in His Faith – Profile: Orange County’s treasurer leans heavily on his Bible to negotiate the turbulent financial waters,” in full:

It’s not something John M.W. Moorlach shouts from the county Hall of Administration rooftop, but he’ll tell you if you ask. The Bible is the first book the Orange County treasurer-tax collector turns to for financial advice.

"The Bible is the greatest self-help financial book ever written," says Moorlach, the Costa Mesa accountant who predicted the Orange County bankruptcy six months before it happened. "I added it up once, and I found more than 2,000 pieces of financial advice in the Bible."

Get him started and Moorlach will reel off biblical passages ("1 Timothy 6:9 says don’t try get-rich-quick schemes") that he uses as a foundation for all financial planning–whether for his household or the county.

Moorlach knows some of his constituents will blanch at the thought of a devout Christian in control of public finances. But Moorlach points out that Scriptural directives have formed the basis for sound financial planning for thousands of years–and their secular cousins are easily recognized.

"The Bible tells us to be content, to save, to avoid get-rich schemes, to diversify, to be honest, to be consistent, to exercise fidelity and stewardship," says Moorlach, a 43-year-old married father of three who attends church at Costa Mesa’s Newport-Mesa Christian Center. "The Scriptural principles work, even if you’re not a Christian."

But Moorlach has found these simple ideals are tough to execute in affluent Orange County, a land of leveraged lifestyles.

Eight years ago, he was so frustrated with his clients’ inability to faithfully follow financial standards outlined in the Bible that he decided to write a self-help book titled "Living Financially Free."

"My frustration was that Christians were pretty flaky with how they handled their money," says Moorlach, whose financial insights have put him on the pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. "It doesn’t make sense that there’s such a great guidebook in the Bible, but no one followed it.

"We know the biggest cause of divorce is stress over finances. That’s why the Scriptures have so much to say about finances–it’s a common element with everybody. It resonates."

Moorlach argues that proper budgeting will shake loose about 20% more money. And he suggests putting half of the newly found money away for retirement and giving half to the church.

"Most of my clients would complain that I chew them out about not tithing enough," Moorlach says. "It’s not something they expect to hear from their CPA."

From his accounting practice, a ministry sprang. Moorlach would help people square away their finances, creating happier marriages and more church giving.

He began by growing a beard.

The idea was to leave the whiskers on until the book was finished. So every day when he looked in the mirror, he had a reminder that there was more to be written.

Today the beard remains. Moorlach’s book project got sidetracked when he decided to run in 1994 for a sleepy little county post: the treasurer-tax collector seat held by Robert L. Citron.

The rest is Orange County financial history: Moorlach ran a losing race but predicted–with uncanny precision–the county’s nearly $2-billion financial collapse, the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. He was appointed treasurer-tax collector after Citron’s forced exit in 1995 and has ran unopposed twice since, most recently in June.

"Citron was violating the basic biblical principle of watching how you borrow," says Moorlach, citing Proverbs 22:7 (". . . the borrower is servant to the lender"). "When I started looking at Citron’s portfolio, there was a conflict with the Bible–and he was using my tax dollars!"

When the county went belly up, Moorlach instantly became a reluctant national newsmaker. He wept the night the county filed for bankruptcy–"I tried so hard to tell people a train wreck was coming"–and has been busy straightening out the county’s finances ever since.

Even though his dream of writing a book has been delayed, Moorlach figures the detour into public life will help his ministry.

"My biggest problem with the book was not that it wasn’t well written, but that I needed credibility," Moorlach says. "I’m now the treasurer of the sixth-largest–and maybe the wealthiest–county in the nation."

Moorlach’s financial experience certainly will give him celebrity status in the world of Christian publishing. But he’s not sure about how his Christian views will go over in the secular society.

"It’s easy to bash Christians," Moorlach says. "They’re sort of fair game. People get bent out of shape about Christians in society and especially in politics. I always find it amusing, people worried about Christians. They are the guys you want living next door to you."

Moorlach believes part of the problem has been caused by politically inspired liberals, who have been able to get Christians stereotyped as right-wing Republicans.

"That’s just not true," Moorlach argues. "If you take a cross-section of a congregation and a cross-section of society, they match up pretty well."

Because of the anti-Christian bias, Moorlach struggles with whether to take a more evangelical approach, given his high-profile position.

"I think about it a lot. Should I be blurting out my testimony everywhere or can I get away with a ‘God bless you’?" says Moorlach, who at 19 had a conversion experience so profound that he spent the night throwing away any possession that didn’t fit with his new Christian life. "I personally feel more comfortable trying to lead by example. I try to be a strong, steady person who people can look at and say, ‘I guess it’s OK to be a Christian.’ "

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