About 200 people cycled through the Costa Mesa Senior Center on Wednesday to ask questions and air concerns during a community open house about the city’s proposal to open a temporary 50-bed homeless shelter at a Westside church.
Throughout the evening, guests visited booths featuring city staff, public safety personnel and representatives of various nonprofits. Each offered information about different aspects of the City Council-approved plan to work with Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene to improve and expand its existing homeless check-in center and inclement-weather refuge to serve as a “bridge shelter” for the next year or so.
City officials have said they hope to open that facility at 1885 Anaheim Ave. in April. Doing so, they said, would give people a safe place to rest and connect with resources and services that could eventually help them out of homelessness. It also would allow the city to resume enforcing its anti-camping laws, which have been on ice for months due to an ongoing federal lawsuit.
The beds at Lighthouse would supplement a dozen others that Costa Mesa has secured through a partnership with College Hospital, an acute-care facility at 301 Victoria St. Those would be available to people suffering a mental health crisis.
“I think people understand that we need to do something and should have probably done something a long time ago ... and that if we don’t take some action, the problem is not only not going to get better, it’s going to get worse,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens.
Unlike at several other discussions about homeless shelters in Orange County, many of those attending Wednesday’s meeting seemed to favor the city’s concept, or at least acknowledge its potential.
That’s not to say there weren’t reservations.
“What happens when you have too many homeless for the amount of beds that are actually available?” said Collin Frangie, who lives near Lighthouse Church. “Are people going to be migrating around that area hoping to get picked up and put in there? It’s a residential area where there are … families and children.”
Others said they were concerned with whether Lighthouse could continue to operate as a homeless shelter even after the city moves to another location. They also emphasized the importance of robust security.
“Everyone is supportive in the community of the Lighthouse doing it for a year, but we need conditions met to protect ourselves long term,” said Mark Hewison, another nearby resident.
A professional third-party contractor would run the shelter, and admittance would be reservation-based with no walk-ups allowed. The city also is looking to install new lighting and fencing, hire 24-hour security and conduct regular patrols in the area.
“Are there going to be challenges? Always. Are there going to be concerns? Absolutely,” said Councilman Manuel Chavez. “But our job is to address them and do our best.”
Mayor Katrina Foley said she came away from Wednesday’s meeting feeling that “residents have a much higher level of understanding as to how we are planning to really restore those neighborhoods … and care for the most vulnerable in our community at the same time.”
“That area has been a hub for homeless for a long time, and our plan is to get people sheltered and restore the neighborhood. I feel like people believe we’re committed to doing that,” she said.
While work progresses on the bridge shelter at Lighthouse, Costa Mesa officials are continuing to search for a suitable longer-term location.
Originally, the city explored the possibility of buying and renovating a 12,000-square-foot office building at 1040 W. 17th St., but that site is no longer being considered. Another possibility, at 3115 Red Hill Ave., also was deemed a nonstarter after representatives of the county — which uses the property to provide behavioral health services — said they need the space.