I felt a sense of outrage at reading and hearing of the suit brought by ACLU on behalf of the homeless people of Laguna Beach. Why Laguna Beach, where so many give so much of themselves and their resources?
Why Laguna Beach, where we have just recently been absolved in the suit brought against us because of our providing a place for people looking for day work to connect with people looking for workers?
Why Laguna Beach, where for years we have supported Friendship Shelter and Henderson House which do provide shelter for some who need a temporary place to live while developing skills and looking for employment?
Why Laguna Beach, where we support our own Community Clinic, our own Youth Shelter, our Cross Cultural Council that supports diversity, our outstanding Boys & Girls Club "” and shares the arts with people across this nation and around the world with our summer Festivals, our Music Festival and our display of art throughout the city.
Why Laguna Beach, where 80% of us bonded ourselves to preserve the greenbelt around our city for ourselves and our posterity. Why Laguna, where we have responded with compassion to our own natural tragedies of flood, fire and mudslides, and have cared for members of our community when help has been needed?
And why Laguna Beach, where our citizens have come together in recognition of the plight of so many members of our community, challenged by disability, by lack of employment, by underemployment, with our Resource Center.
Our Resource Center has been a rock of support during times of natural disaster, and it has been and is a place for poor families and the homeless to obtain food, clothing, counseling, some sense of belonging, and a chance to wash their clothing and take a shower.
Volunteers in our community provide hot meals two evenings a week for those needing sustenance, our religious community makes sack lunches which are taken by volunteers to the beach to provide food during the week days. Where other than in Laguna Beach can you find an Orange County city that has established a task force to develop means to ease the plight of these most challenged individuals?
Why Laguna Beach, where we face our second suit in as many years for doing what is right? Why not other cities, equally as rich, who rumor says support their homeless by giving them a bus ticket to Laguna where they can get help?
Why? What is the other side of the story?
It is documented that many of the homeless are suffering from mental illness of substance abuse. One in 10 families is affected by mental illness in this nation. This must be true in Orange County as well. Mental illness is not a choice, it is a disease. I hope people reading this share my belief that all people should live with dignity, and this includes those with disabilities. How do we respond to that need in our rich nation "” in our rich Orange County? The Orange County jail has the largest mental health unit in our county. Laguna Beach has shown compassion and caring, but this problem is bigger than Laguna Beach. It is a county, state and national problem.
How do we treat those abusing alcohol and drugs? Again, we fill our prisons to overflowing, so there is little availability of treatment, and users are released, sent back to the streets and make their way back to prison with little hope of changing their condition. Drug courts, drug treatment centers in existence, are not enough. In Laguna Beach we care. We are doing what we can. But the problem is bigger than Laguna Beach.
And with our economy in a tail-spin, many people in Orange County are losing their homes due to foreclosure. Previous to this time we know that many of the homeless in Orange County have been families with children. We can expect those numbers to increase.
Our Resource Center finds the shelves of food diminishing, and requests have been put out to members of the community to make donations to fill those shelves. Our community, being Laguna Beach, will respond. Housing the families is another matter.
It is too big a challenge for our population of around 25,000 to solve.
In my opinion, bringing suit against Laguna Beach won’t achieve what is needed. I am sure our City Council, being representatives of this community, will revisit the ordinance which deals with “sleeping," but that won’t solve the problem. You could add all the cities in Orange County with similar ordinances to your suit, and the problem would not be solved.
Expand your horizons, ACLU. Bring your suit where it will get the kind of results you are looking for. (And next time do your homework before you get your feet muddy.)
JEAN RAUN lives in Laguna Beach.