Larry Haynes has been in Orange County for more than 25 years overseeing the multiple services that Mercy House provides to homeless people.
The organization that he steers as executive director finds itself once again at the forefront of efforts to address the homeless population, with the opening of the county’s long-sought, year-round multiservice center – the Bridges at Kraemer shelter in Anaheim – in May and then HomeAid Orange County’s Family CareCenter emergency shelter in Orange last month.
In both cases, Mercy House is in charge of helping to restore dignity to the lives of several hundred people at a time, most specifically by getting them into housing. Those two shelters are among dozens of programs operated by the Santa Ana-based nonprofit corporation, whose reach extends to Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, along with the city of Phoenix.
Mercy House’s growth here has been marked by frustration and progress, county contracts over the past 10 years totaling $15.6 million in federal, state and local funds, and, more recently, collaborations with other nonprofits. There’s also been plenty of criticism.
Chief among the barbs that have been aimed at Mercy House: the organization has moved too slowly or didn’t deliver some expected services at all; staff members have been disrespectful while interacting with homeless clients; program rules were too harsh and arbitrary.
But Haynes, director of Mercy House since 1990, will point out their programs have placed thousands of people in housing along the way, and prevented thousands of others from a night on the streets. He anticipates a half-dozen new housing projects to be completed in the next 12 to 18 months.
Here are abridged excerpts, edited for clarity and brevity, from a recent conversation with Haynes.
Responding to criticism
Haynes: First off, all of our operations are a completely open book. Tell us where money was misspent, overspent. It’s just not there. I don’t think people have a full understanding of what certain things cost because of what is required.
Register: What about complaints homeless people have made about the way they were treated?
Haynes: We are absolutely committed to taking a critical look at ourselves and where we can constantly improve.
The problem with responding to that question is that it’s very…