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OC Leader Board: A Holistic Approach to Homelessness


Orange County Business Journal offered me the opportunity to write for its Leader Board, published in the magazine’s June 3, 2024 issue. The article will give you a deeper dive into the complexity of homelessness and Orange County Rescue Mission’s approach to helping people achieve self-sufficiency.

A special thank you goes to the Editor of Orange County Business Journal for publishing the article.

Orange County Business Journal, June 3, 2024

OC Leader Board: A Holistic Approach to Homelessness
By Bryan Crain
June 3, 2024

Editor’s Note: Last year, Bryan Crain became chief executive of Orange County Rescue Mission Inc., a faith-based nonprofit that reported $27 million in revenue in 2023.

Amid the thriving Orange County business community lives a heartbreaking alternate reality comprised of thousands of homeless people grappling to survive day to day. Since 2013, the numbers have swelled 72% to 7,322 in 2024, according to the Orange County Continuum of Care’s annual point-in-time counts.

The factors leading to people living on the streets vary widely—from a lack of adequate jobs and housing to drug addiction and human trafficking. As such, solutions must vary widely as well. Because homelessness is a multifaceted problem, it’s about much more than a lack of shelter. To truly make a lasting impact, we must address the root causes rather than merely treat the symptoms.

Employment Opportunities

With the number of unemployed Californians rising and local rents surging, people who unexpectedly find themselves in difficult situations due to job loss or reduced hours are coming to us.

There are certainly jobs available in the market, but the skill sets of those looking for work don’t necessarily match the skill sets required for those jobs. Entry-level positions often aren’t as abundant as they were immediately after the pandemic.

One of our goals at Orange County Rescue Mission’s Village of Hope is to equip people to obtain positions with the potential for career growth and where they can earn the highest wage they’ve ever had.

One of the ways we do this is by helping adults complete their high school education if they haven’t already. Then, we equip them to pursue professional certificates in fields such as medical billing and coding, medical and dental assistance, culinary arts, and HVAC technician.

Hard skills like carpentry, plumbing, welding, and auto work are another area where the demand for such services is outpacing the local supply. There is a need for easier access to education and apprenticeships that teach skills such as these.

In response, the Rescue Mission is developing a program for training in these areas to help residents attain higher-paying jobs and financial stability for themselves and their families.

Since the 1990s, the federal government’s approach to homelessness has been based on a model called “Housing First.” A major tenant of the Housing First philosophy is that housing must be provided with “no strings attached,” namely any requirement of sobriety or periodic drug testing.

This leads to a cycle of dependency on the government and nonprofits. We believe the more dignified approach is to help meet people’s basic needs within a framework that offers them substantial progress toward sobriety and self-sufficiency.

Another contributing factor is the rise of a philosophy called “Harm Reduction” that advocates for the distribution of clean needles and readily available overdose medical services in homeless encampments. Harm Reduction is at best shortsighted and at worst deceptively harmful, despite the philosophy’s name.

If the goal is to provide meaningful and compassionate help to people who are in the clutches of an all-consuming drug addiction, we should be providing help to stop using drugs, rather than tools to enable and encourage people to eventually lose their lives to addiction.

Orange County historically has been less tolerant of encampments where open-air drug markets flourish; we consequently have a significantly lower rate of homelessness among the total population—0.18% in 2022 compared to 0.71% and 0.96% in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. Since 2019, the homeless population has increased by 10,000 to 69,144 in Los Angeles and about 300 to 8,035 in San Francisco.

The Rise of Fentanyl Overdoses

An alarming 85% of those who seek out our programs struggle with drug addiction, mental illness, or both. In 2022, the Orange County Sheriffs Department reported that 209 local homeless people died from fentanyl overdoses. That’s more than twice the number of accidental homeless deaths from all drug over doses, 91, in Orange County in 2018.

I’ve personally known people who’ve struggled with meth or heroin addictions for years or even decades. Fentanyl is different. You can’t limp along in a fentanyl addiction for years because there’s a high likelihood you’ll die early in your usage of it.

This growing knowledge among drug users is allowing us to proactively provide opportunities to help them by providing drug-related counseling, guiding them to build a lasting sense of purpose, teaching them strategies to ensure sustained recovery and stability, and supporting their faith.

The transformation that comes from taking control of one’s own life cannot be overstated. We’ve had great success partnering with nonprofits that help address these issues, such as the Hurtt Family Health Clinic, which has an onsite location at Village of Hope and offers mental health services and substance abuse classes.

For many people, escaping domestic violence is a catalyst for homelessness. By collaborating with nonprofits dedicated to preventing and addressing domestic violence and by providing safe spaces, counseling, and legal assistance, we aim to break the cycle of abuse and prevent homelessness.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of House of Hope, which was Orange County Rescue Mission’s first step into providing an ongoing supportive program for women with their children.

This eventually paved the way for Village of Hope, which has helped thousands of men, women, and children since 2008. Orange County Rescue Mission has 10 campuses serving individuals, including military veterans and families, with comprehensive services to overcome homelessness and transitional and affordable housing.

We believe strong family units are the backbone of long-term strength and stability. I’m excited to expand our initiatives to strengthen families during my first full year as president and CEO.

As an example, our new ranch facility in Silverado Canyon will offer kids living at Village of Hope weekly horseback riding lessons because interacting with horses has healing attributes that are mental, physical, and spiritual in nature.

Additionally, our recently renovated retreat center at the ranch will host regular family camp weekends for the families living at Village of Hope. For families coming out of the chaos of homelessness, time to play together outdoors and enjoy activities such as horseback riding, campfires, hiking, and go-karts is incredibly healing and instrumental for strengthening relationships.

Businesses Needed

In the past year, we provided 43% more services to those in need than we did the previous year.

By addressing the root causes of homelessness, we contribute to safer neighborhoods, stronger families, and a more resilient society.

I invite businesses to join us in redefining the narrative around homelessness. By supporting nonprofits that take a holistic approach, businesses can play a vital role in creating a future where homelessness is a rarity rather than a norm.

To learn more, contact (714) 247-4300 or visit

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