Not all of William H. Jennings' Santa Monica City Council colleagues were ready Tuesday night to embrace his idea to move the homeless to the front lawn of City Hall, but they did unanimously agree to find some public open land--perhaps the City Hall lawn--within the next six months to house the homeless.
City Manager John Jalili was told to form an advisory committee to help find appropriate sites that could temporarily house homeless people. Jalili will also return in six months with an explanation of the costs involved in setting up such a proposal, possible sources for funding and how the plan would work.
Jalili will also contact officials from surrounding areas to seek their participation in a broader program to deal with the homeless.
The discussion Tuesday night, which began about 11:30 p.m. and continued to nearly 1 a.m., quickly became heated when Jennings asked the council to commit itself to opening the front lawn of City Hall for the homeless. He accused the city of doing little to really help the homeless.
"We may be making people comfortable, but what have we done to make them unhomeless?" Jennings asked his colleagues.
Lawn a Symbol
Jennings said his proposal is to take a long-term look at the homeless problem by providing temporary housing, identifying those who want and can get jobs, sort out the criminal element, and return parks and beaches to the public.
"I do not believe we have done anything but perpetuate the problem," Jennings said.
Councilman David B. Finkel said he generally supported Jennings' proposal, but disputed his contention that the city has not done anything for the homeless. He argued that the lawn may not be the appropriate site for such a camp.
"The simple fact is that this city has done more than any other city in the country for the homeless," Finkel said.
Finkel then made an alternative motion to find public open space other than City Hall for the homeless.
The discussion then centered on the appropriateness of the City Hall lawn.
Councilwoman Christine Reed favored the lawn, saying it would be a symbol, particularly to residents, that city government was doing something about the problem.
"If we do not offer City Hall, which is our workplace, our front yard, what are we then saying to our residents?" Reed asked.
Mayor Dennis Zane argued that moving the homeless to City Hall would not help solve the problem.
"City Hall is not an invitation to a successful program, it is an invitation to a circus," Zane said.
Finkel agreed to amend his proposal to include City Hall as one of the possible sites, and Jennings agreed to support the motion.
Homeless activist Ted Hayes appeared at the council meeting to support Jennings' proposal.
"That is the right direction," Hayes said. "Provide some land for the homeless. Their lives have to be stabilized. Set up a pilot program, work out the kinks. Prove that it can be done, then other cities will participate."
Hayes, who helped organize a tent city last year on Venice Beach, wants to put the homeless in igloo-like structures called geodesic domes. The 14-feet-by-9-feet domes house two people and can easily be moved.