A Home for the Homeless? Good Start! : * Westminster Leaders Deserve Credit for Compassion; Let's All Go With That Idea

Add Westminster to the list of cities trying to alleviate Orange County's homeless problem. It is one thing to acknowledge the existence of the homeless, it is another to try to do something about it, and something else quite again to manage to come up with an approach that is more than a response to urgency, but that is innovative and compassionate at the same time.

Under the too common scenario of keeping the homeless out of sight and out of mind, those evicted last month from a makeshift outdoor shelter near the Beach Boulevard exit of the San Diego Freeway would simply have been left on their own to find another clump of bushes to call home. It is to the credit of Westminster officials that this group was not simply abandoned.

Instead, o a dozen residents of what they had proclaimed "Club Homeless" moved into a four-bedroom house. They can stay 60 days while they look for work or receive job training. If they need more time, they are likely to get it. Sensible rules like no drugs or alcohol were instituted, and those not spending eight hours a day looking for a job will have to do volunteer work.

The Westminster Redevelopment Agency approved $10,000 for the program; the nonprofit organization Shelter for the Homeless chipped in $4,000 plus a case manager. It should be money well spent.

The countywide Homeless Issues Task Force last year estimated the number of homeless in the county at 12,000, an increase of 20% in two years. Permanent homeless shelters can handle fewer than 10%. Clearly, Orange County needs more of such innovative solutions to a real problem.

A number of cities are trying to tackle it, as they should. It would also be helpful for all the cities, and the county, and churches and nonprofit groups to come up with a comprehensive plan to solve the problem, rather than a piecemeal approach.

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