City Manager James C. Hankla has questioned whether this city has even a fraction of the number of homeless people estimated by a task force that studied the problem for nearly a year.
The city-appointed task force said in a report released last November that there were about 5,000 homeless people in Long Beach last year.
But Hankla disagrees.
"We believe the number is considerably fewer based on counts of persons who use existing shelters or were issued housing vouchers during recent cold weather, and based on observations by our patrol officers," Hankla wrote in a report to a City Council committee. "Accordingly, I perceive the homeless count to be in the hundreds, not thousands."
Regardless of the number, however, Hankla said that a homeless population is a "serious problem."
During the recent cold spell, Long Beach-based Catholic Charities, San Pedro Pastoral Region, provided the homeless with motel rooms paid for by the county on 13 nights when the weather dipped below 40 degrees. Volunteers gave out an average of 150 vouchers each night, according to Vanessa Romain, Catholic Charities administrative assistant. The most vouchers given out in one day was 237, she said.
Councilman Clarence Smith said the exact number of homeless people does not matter, and he wants the city to do more for them. "We have a major problem. I don't care what the figure is," Smith said.
The three-member Quality of Life Committee headed by Smith agreed last week that the city should create an office to coordinate human services. But it is uncertain who the human services coordinator would report to and how the job would relate to existing services. The committee also agreed that the city should establish a permanent homeless services advisory committee.
The committee plans to continue its review of recommendations by the Mayor and City Council's Task Force on the Homeless at a future meeting. But regardless of what the committee members decide, the real test will come when the committee's recommendations on the task force's report go before the City Council. While at least two of the three councilmen on the committee have been favorable toward the task force's recommendations, others on the council have been less than enthusiastic.
Like Hankla, several council members have questioned the extent of the homeless problem in Long Beach. They also question to what degree city government should aid the homeless, arguing that state law mandates that it is the county's responsibility to take care of the indigent.