Looking to cut down on homeless services in Costa Mesa, Mayor Eric Bever has asked the city to investigate some of the city’s most prominent and long-running charities.
Bever singled out Share Our Selves and Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, decades-old nonprofits that dispense food and medical care to the poor and homeless.
The mayor compared the charities to nightclubs that have become neighborhood nuisances. It would go a long way to solving the problem of homeless people coming to Costa Mesa, the mayor said, “if we managed to put the soup kitchen out of business.”
The homeless population in Costa Mesa has been a stubborn political issue over the years, with some residents complaining that vagrants take over public facilities like Lions Park and the library in the heart of the city’s downtown.
But the assertion that the soup kitchen and outreach center are magnets strictly to homeless people is off base, said Shannon Santos, the executive director of Someone Cares.
Santos said a survey the soup kitchen conducted in 2011 found that 86% of its patrons said they were from Costa Mesa, and about 40% were low-income seniors, many from the nearby Bethel Towers apartments, which serves seniors with modest incomes.
“There’s a big misconception that the only people we’re feeding here at the kitchen are the homeless people,” Santos said. “I would love to invite the mayor to come in and see who we are really serving, and I think he’d be surprised.”
Lions Park is midway between the two charities. Someone Cares serves hot meals daily, and Share Our Selves provides a variety of services, including groceries, clothing, mental health counseling and dental care.
Karen Mechlin, the director of Share Our Selves, said her clients are from Costa Mesa and other Orange County cities, and that Bever “should be proud” that “we are a center that’s protecting the health and welfare of the people in the county.”
Mechlin said Bever, who will be termed out of office in November, has never visited the center.
“He has no knowledge. His message is old,” she said. “Thank God he is going out the door.”
In about two weeks, city administrators are planning to meet with Santos at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. Rick Francis, the city’s assistant chief executive, said the city is limited in how it can deal with the nonprofits but will encourage them to focus on serving Costa Mesa residents.
“We can’t infringe on the rights of the service providers to do what they do,” Francis said.
Not all of the council members lined up behind Bever.
“They are Costa Mesa families, and I think that’s where the mayor needs to step back,” said Councilwoman Wendy Leece, a liaison to the city’s Homeless Task Force. “They are Costa Mesa residents who have fallen on hard times.”
While other Orange County cities have similar services, they might not be as comprehensive as those in Costa Mesa.
“In a perfect world, everyone would have their own self-contained service model so people wouldn’t have to travel here,” Francis said, “but we have to deal with the reality before us.”
He added: “We’re not going to snap our fingers and make these people go away.”