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Costa Mesa looking to secure 62 homeless shelter beds following judge’s direction

Shoes personal items lay scattered on the ground in the Talbert Preserve on Monday, October 31.
Shoes and other items lie on the ground at a homeless encampment in Costa Mesa in October 2016.
(File Photo)

In response to direction from a federal judge presiding over litigation that threatens to imperil Costa Mesa’s ability to enforce its anti-camping laws, city officials have committed to securing 62 emergency homeless shelter beds, 12 of which would be in a local hospital and available to those suffering from a mental health crisis.

Though there are no concrete plans for the 50 other beds — and it remains to be seen whether those would be in one facility or spread among different locations — officials hope to firm up details in the next month or so, according to city spokesman Tony Dodero.

“Finding 50 emergency shelter beds in Costa Mesa or by partnering with surrounding cities is going to take a tremendous amount of civic engagement and support by elected leaders and the greater Costa Mesa community, as the city’s goal will be to ensure any impacts are minimized,” Dodero said in a statement.

The city has begun working with College Hospital — an acute care facility at 301 Victoria St. — to provide the mental health beds.

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Such an arrangement, Dodero said, would enable law enforcement and firefighters to quickly refer “people they encounter on the streets who are a threat to themselves or the community.” It also would “result in fewer individuals with mental health issues on Costa Mesa streets, which will make the community safer,” he said.

The city’s hope is the combined 62 beds will satisfy U.S. District Judge David Carter, who is overseeing a federal lawsuit filed in January against Orange County and the cities of Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Orange on behalf of homeless people cleared from a former encampment along the Santa Ana River.

Carter has called for county cities to develop enough emergency and transitional housing beds to accommodate 60% of the 2,584 unsheltered people tallied during a 2017 countywide count.

That survey documented 103 unsheltered homeless people in Costa Mesa — down from 158 recorded during a similar effort by Vanguard University in 2015.

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Carter also has threatened to consider an order preventing cities from enforcing their anti-camping ordinances or citing the homeless for sleeping in public if “there’s no resolution for these men and women.”

“No community, whether it’s Costa Mesa, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, Huntington Beach, wants to be the regional site for an emergency shelter,” Costa Mesa City Councilman John Stephens said this week. “But when we’re talking about taking care of our own and doing our fair share, that’s a lot more doable and that’s something I think the community can wrap their minds around, especially ... if the consequence of not doing that is not being able to enforce our anti-encampment ordinance.”

Stephens — who is chairman of the Assn. of California Cities-Orange County Homelessness Task Force — said another consideration is a recent ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined it is unconstitutional to prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property when they don’t have access to shelter.

“When faced with the choice of having encampments in our city or controlling a limited amount of shelter beds, [the latter] seems to be the wise thing to do,” he said.

As the wider debate about homelessness in Orange County continues, Costa Mesa officials have regularly said they’re willing to do their part to tackle the issue but that other cities need to step up too.

Current efforts in Costa Mesa include the Network for Homeless Solutions, a collaboration of city staff, local churches, nonprofits, private organizations and volunteers to identify and provide resources to the homeless. Officials say that effort has helped house almost 300 people and reconnected more than 120 others with family or friends outside the city.

luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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