In Orange County, the longest night is often the coldest. Public coroner records show that this year nearly 500 people died on our streets, an increase of about 100 from last year. These deaths keep rising each year. 

At 7.p.m tonight, local leaders will gather to remember those lost, at the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Laguna Woods, holding Orange County’s 7th annual Homeless Persons’ Interreligious Memorial Service.  The interfaith event, led by a host of religious leaders like Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, will feature leaders reading aloud the names of homeless people who died on the streets of Orange County this year. 

Organizers will seek to offer dignity to these forgotten neighbors, with each person having a candle carried to an altar in a procession.  The memorial service is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Our Father’s Table, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Volunteer Network OC, the Orange County Interfaith Network and Lutheran Church of the Cross.

Father Denis Kriz, pastor at St. Philip Benizi Church in Fullerton, looked County Supervisors squarely in the eye on Tuesday, warning them in a soft voice, “we honestly can do better.”

Kriz challenged supervisors to get creative, maybe just finding a place for desperate, unhoused people where they can at the very least park and sleep in their cars.

“The stress you put on these people, when they lose their cars, you put them in a hard place,” Kriz noted.

He also advised supervisors that every month, there will be an accounting of residents who died on the streets.  And every year, there will be a memorial.

Kriz, who tallies the homeless deaths every month in Voice of OC op-eds, reminded county supervisors that today he will publish the entire list for the year – a sobering statement of failure for all of us to ponder during our holiday gatherings and break.

Consider that nearly five years ago, county leaders all came together, to much PR fanfare, and announced a bold effort to create 2,700 permanent housing units in three years, acknowledging that a central policy tool in solving homelessness is getting people into housing that offers wraparound services like medical and mental health, along with help on job hunting. 

They all went to Sacramento, they got fancy legislation approved in record time and lots of politicians got a great photo opportunity, creating another layer of government, the OC Housing Finance Trust

But this week, county bureaucrats reminded us all that after all the fancy parties and official victory laps, the goal of 2,700 units quietly got moved back and current estimates don’t see anything close to that kind of housing coming online for years. 

The goal was to create these units by 2025. But in recent weeks, county officials pushed it back by four years – to 2029.

Full story at Voice of OC.