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Newport Beach reduces numbers of homelessness by 50% or more since March

Tom Gallenkamp was camping under the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach in 2019.
Tom Gallenkamp camps under the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach in 2019. He said he had been homeless for about eight months after losing his home of about a dozen years when the owner decided to renovate the complex.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

When the pandemic led to a statewide stay-at-home order, the city of Newport Beach stepped up efforts to find safe housing for the 60 to 70 homeless individuals estimated to be living there at the time.

At Newport Beach’s City Council meeting Tuesday, city staff reported that it has reduced its homeless population by 50% or more since March. Estimates place the current population at 20 to 30 as of October.

Many were housed as part of Project Roomkey, a statewide initiative to repurpose hotels and motels bereft of visitors in light of the pandemic to serve as temporary housing for homeless individuals more at risk for contracting COVID-19.

City staff said others were housed in sober-living facilities, supportive housing, congregate housing or found other arrangements.

The program ended in late September, but city officials said the program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state, allowed them to house 33 individuals.

Homeless coordinator Natalie Basmaciyan said the 2019 Point-In-Time count identified about 65 to 80 people experiencing homelessness in Newport Beach. Of those, 55 people have been housed and sheltered, but Basmaciyan stressed that those individuals may not be from the same people identified in January.

“Some people might find their own accommodations. Somebody else might start experiencing homelessness, but it’s a working number that we’ve been using,” Basmaciyan said.

The next Point-In-Time count is scheduled for January 2021.

Basmaciyan said that since the 2019 Point-In-Time count, the city formed an interdepartmental “rapid response” team, which collaborates with homeless outreach service provider City Net, to respond to community concerns.

“It is very frustrating for residents to see people in distress, living their lives publicly,” Basmaciyan said. “I know there’s an anger factor and we do our best to work with everybody and make sure their dignity is maintained while we’re going through this very complicated, long process trying to re-introduce them into a better way of living."

“That is where City Net plays a key role. They have the connections and the referrals to help us do that,” she added.

There are five candidates running for three seats on Newport Beach’s City Council on Nov. 3.

The city said it is also completing discussions with Costa Mesa on a regional partnership to provide shelter services, which Basmaciyan said would be more “cost effective than running [Newport Beach’s] own shelter.” She said both cities likely served some of the same community members and would be able to avoid duplicating costs and efforts geared toward those repeat individuals.

Staff is expected to bring back a memorandum of understanding between the two cities for City Council’s consideration on Nov. 10 and is also considering developer proposals to create permanent supportive housing for up to 50 individuals in the city. The 70-bed Costa Mesa shelter is expected to be completed by March.

If approved, it would provide 20 shelter beds for Newport Beach.

“This is not the cure-all, end-all, be-all,” said Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs. “This is not the cure for homelessness. A permanent home is the cure for homelessness and, again, that permanent supportive housing that we’re working on as well.

“But, we will be able to enforce the anti-camping laws a little bit more strongly, be able to get people in the shelter, which puts them in the process to get them permanent housing and that really is what the shelter is for,” Jacobs said.

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