Accountability: Orange County Restores Oversight Office, Orders Independent Review of Homeless Response

Santa Ana, California – Orange County will conduct an independent review of its homeless response, including an examination into the effectiveness of homeless court. 

On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Chairman Andrew Do’s plan to restore the Office of Independent Review in this year’s budget with specific direction to tackle the county’s most pressing need and greatest public policy challenge.

“Orange County has committed hundreds of millions of dollars towards homelessness. We want to make sure taxpayer dollars are well spent,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, who authored the oversight proposal. “This independent audit will ensure oversight and accountability in our homeless response.”

 “We want to know what’s working and identify the areas that need improvement,” he added.

Under the plan, the Office of Independent Review will audit four areas:
How effective is Homeless Outreach Court?
Are local law enforcement agencies engaging in “homeless dumping” in specific communities and/or do policies result in a disproportionate burden on the City of Santa Ana?
Are state “catch-and-release” policies, including AB 109, Prop. 57 & Prop 47, contributing to the homeless crisis?
Are social services effectively reaching and assisting homeless individuals and/or what are the evolving best practices for social services that provide ongoing self-sufficiency?

Homelessness: Intersects All 5 County Agencies under OIR Scope
Created to ensure accountability and review systemic issues, the Office of Independent Review has jurisdiction over five departments: Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney, Public Defender, Probation Department, and Social Services Agency.

Chairman Do noted that the county’s homeless response intersects all five departments that fall under OIR’s scope. The proposal also takes into consideration the recommendations outlined by the Orange County Grand Jury in its 2015-16 report, “Office of Independent Review: What’s Next?”
“…OIR should act pro-actively, finding and averting emerging crises in all five law-enforcement-related agencies,” the Orange County Grand Jury wrote in its 2015-2016 report “These systemic audits, if allowed, have the potential to uncover developing problems and take corrective action before they reach a critical stage.”

OIR’s Charter: Liability, Best Practices & Exemplary Employees
In addition to its nexus among all five OIR departments, the audit of the county’s homeless response fulfills its charter to address major liability issues facing the county. Ongoing litigation before U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter continues to affect the county’s actions to provide services to the homeless and prevent homeless encampments.

Additionally, the Office of Independent Review is called upon to identify best practices and identify exemplary employees.

 “Orange County employees have done a remarkable job in the county’s homeless response,” said Chairman Do. “Our employees have performed admirably, and at a risk -- having just cleared cleared 13,950 needles, 400 tons of debris and 5,279 pounds of hazardous waste from the Riverbed encampment. The Office of Independent Review should identify these exemplary employees.”

Do Proposal Wins over Skeptics
Do’s proposal won over the support of his colleagues, including those who had previously questioned the cost and effectiveness of the department.

“For the first time ever, I'll support restoring the OIR's money,” Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a frequent OIR critic, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This would be very helpful and a valuable place for this person to spend their time.”

The homeless audit will be conducted over the next six months.