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OC Register: Homeless hot spots: Costa Mesa caring for ‘our own’

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By MIKE REICHER

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Costa Mesa residents, churchgoers, officials and others are helping the homeless off the streets.

That’s magnanimous by most accounts, but there’s a catch: They want to mostly help Costa Mesa residents, and discourage others from coming to town.

The first step in their process, a census and survey by Vanguard University, found a stable population between 100 and 120 locals. The homeless hot spots were mainly on the city’s Westside, near nonprofits and churches. Now, officials are finalizing their list of residents while stepping up their enforcement measures.

“We want to take care of our own, but we don’t want to be an attractant,” said City Councilman Steve Mensinger.

Click here to watch a video about a Costa Mesa church helping the homeless.

One of the men they are focusing on is Don, 50, a regular at the Lighthouse Church. Like many homeless, he prefers to use his first name because of the stigma.

On Monday, he met with city social worker Rosemary Nielsen – an impromptu chat about where he could live. A recovering addict with two dogs, Don is hard to place into limited housing.

Nielsen may soon have a new option: Officials are planning to convert an old motel into supportive housing and create an “adoption” program for people like Don – homeless with long-standing ties to the city.

But not everyone believes in the plan. Without other cities taking the same approach, some argue, Costa Mesa will just be pushing people around, to places with fewer resources. Some see the city’s social services as the big magnet – if they aren’t as selective as the city, why would people stop coming?

CITY TO FINALIZE LIST OF HOMELESS

The city is finalizing a list of roughly 100-120 chronically homeless people it considers Costa Mesa residents.

If they make the cut, homeless individuals may qualify for city-coordinated services like housing.

If they don’t, they have to rely on county, private or other resources.

Either way, people living on the street face heightened law enforcement and other measures designed to make Costa Mesa less inviting to them.

Officials call this a “carrot and stick” approach to ending homelessness in Costa Mesa. Here are some of the city’s actions:

Carrots

•Contracted with a mental health worker to assist police

•Worked with churches to open a storage facility for personal belongings

•Hired a part-time social worker, with plans to hire two more

•Working with faith-based community to “adopt” a homeless family or individual

•Seeking a developer to build supportive housing with mental health, job referral, and medical services

•Working with churches to reunite individuals with families in other cities

•Seeking funding for emergency motel stays, bus and airline tickets

Sticks

•Police issued 190 citations in Lions Park this year and made 52 arrests, more than doubling last year’s numbers

•Hired park rangers that patrol Lions Park and other parks, looking for violations

•Banned smoking in parks

•Banned extra belongings stored on bike racks

•Demolished shade structure in Lions Park

•Drafting a law against leaving unattended belongings in public

•Considering surveillance cameras in Lions Park

•Planning heightened enforcement of anti-camping laws

VOICES

Can it work?

“It would work if every one of our cities that border Costa Mesa embraced the same approach. Without that, we’re just taking homeless people somewhere else to be homeless.” -Ed Clarke, Vanguard University sociology professor

“I think the biggest obstacle is to keep them from coming. There are so many services…I don’t think they can ever stop the massive influx.” -Marisa David, resident of the Vendome Condominiums, adjacent to Lions Park

“A key aspect has to be housing and getting them off the streets. Something beyond providing meals.” -David Snow, UC Irvine sociology professor

For full story in OC Register Click HERE

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