A drizzle had just begun as Travis Corcoran stepped out of Laguna Beach’s Alternative Sleeping Location on Tuesday afternoon, his hair still damp from taking a shower. He had just finished his first visit to the ASL’s daytime drop-in pilot program, which began Monday.
The program offers homeless people the opportunity to visit the shelter between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to eat a meal, do laundry, shower, send mail, apply for housing and complete other social services. They also can apply for the ASL’s new enrollment program for space in one of the shelter’s 40 beds available for overnight stays. The ASL keeps five additional emergency beds available for the Police Department to provide to people in need.
Corcoran has stayed at the Laguna Canyon Road shelter — which he calls the “Ritz-Carlton” of local shelters — on and off for the past year. He went there Tuesday to get out of the rain for a while somewhere other than the library.
“It’s nice because it gives you [the] option for something to do during the day,” Corcoran said of the new program.
The daytime services replace an evening drop-in program in which people would visit for overnight shelter and a variety of needs.
The ASL replaced its lottery system for beds with a more involved intake process that evaluates a person’s length of homelessness, disability status and willingness to work on a housing plan. People who are accepted in the enrollment program can stay at the shelter overnight for 30 days, with a couple of stipulations — they must show they are actively pursuing housing options with a coordinator and can’t stay away from the ASL for more than three nights without discussing it with a staff member.
By the second day of the pilot enrollment program, 40 people were already signed up.
People who don’t make it into the enrollment program are put on a waiting list for a bed. The Friendship Shelter, a nonprofit that operates the ASL, also offers a limited number of bus passes to an Orange County armory emergency shelter. The parking lot outside the ASL, where some people have set up camp in the past, is off limits for overnight stays.
“These changes to our emergency shelter program move us closer to achieving our goal of ending homelessness for the most vulnerable men and women in our community through permanent housing,” Friendship Shelter Executive Director Dawn Price said in a statement. “Daytime hours allow us to connect our clients with resources more efficiently, and the 30-day enrollment period will give our guests stability to work on their housing plan with our staff.”
Theoretically, the same 40 people could stay at the ASL for 30 days, with the option to renew if they are pursuing housing. But Mia Ferreira, the Friendship Shelter’s program manager, said beds likely will become available more frequently than that, given how clients’ situations often shift.
“People’s circumstances change — hospitals, arrests, housing,” Ferreira said. One person left the program after one night’s stay because he was accepted into a county housing program, she said.
Ferreira said more than 20 people visited on each of the pilot program’s first two days. Some would not have come for the evening program before because it was too crowded, she said.
“It really warmed our hearts; a couple people were like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad it’s calm, it’s nice, it’s daytime,’” she said. “For me, [it was] a confirmation that we’re serving some of the most vulnerable people on the streets.”
Corcoran said he appreciated the smaller number of people at the ASL during the day in the program’s first week.
At least two Friendship Shelter staff members are on hand every day, and another drives a van, shuttling people from the ASL to downtown Laguna. On several days, an intern, a volunteer social worker or a public health nurse also work at the shelter.
The main goal is to connect people with housing solutions, Ferreira said. For some, that may mean applying for a countywide housing pool. For others, it could be as simple as acquiring identification papers.
“A lot of people are starting from scratch — ‘I need to get a job in order to afford housing, but I need to get my ID first,’” Ferreira said. “So we’re just kind of triage with people who are interested.”
Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson said there is no definite time frame for evaluating the pilot program.
“We’re totally focused on getting it up and running,” she said.