For a Mickey Mouse theme park built on hopes and dreams, the sight of a growing number of homeless people sleeping on nearby bus stop benches was too much for City Hall.
Officials in the city of Anaheim, CA, the Orange County home of both Disneyland and Angel Stadium, recently ordered workers to remove 20 benches at bus shelters near the entrance to the theme park following complaints about Mickey’s homeless neighbors, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A city spokesman told the newspaper that the order was not issued in response to a request by Disneyland administrators, adding that, “It breaks our heart to have to remove those benches.”
Anaheim, like other California cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco, is experiencing a troubling spike in the number of homeless people, prompting county officials to call for an organized, regional response.
A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development noted that California is among five states that account for half of all people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. (The others are New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington.) California has over 118,000 people who are currently homeless, and the state accounted for nearly half of all unsheltered people in the country last year. It also was the state that saw the largest increase in the number of homeless people from 2015 to 2016, the study said.
Orange County, the state’s third largest county, is one of the least affordable to live in across the nation, with a cost of living over 40% higher than the U.S. average, according to Family Promise of Orange County, a church–affiliated homeless assistance group.
In 2015, the median rental price for a two–bedroom apartment there was $1,719, more than double the national median cost.
According to the Times:
Susan Price, Orange County’s director of care coordination, said officials are trying to build a coordinated approach involving all of the more than 30 disparate cities that takes into account the different causes of homelessness, including economic woes, a lack of healthcare and recent reforms in the criminal justice system.
She admitted that local officials are unprepared and lack resources to adequately deal with the issue. So, part of the response is to remove bus benches, which nearby cities also have done. But that isn’t a permanent solution to what local homeless people really need, which is housing assistance, advocates say.
“No one welcomes us because of who we are and how we look. They have no clue how we ended up here, they just judge,” 47–year–old Ron Jackson told the Times.