Having lived for many years in an urban city with the distinction of having what was amusingly called the “Homeless Hilton,” an attractive, state-of-the-art homeless transitional shelter, and having covered homeless issues in the Los Angeles area since they began to surface in the late 1980s — not coincidentally, when home prices started to climb astronomically — I have thought and written a lot about these issues.
The Homeless Hilton was just one among many other facilities in Santa Monica for the unhoused. These ranged from a huge circus-sized tent with cots (for men only) next to the freeway to a smaller shelter for women only near the Santa Monica Pier, to an emergency aid center near the bus depot where sack lunches, clothing and services were dispensed on demand. There were also a number of private apartment complexes built in various areas of the city especially to serve “transitional” homeless families. Another agency opened a state-of-the-art facility to help homeless people train for and obtain jobs.
All of this was in addition to the Salvation Army’s large facility in downtown Santa Monica where souls are saved on a daily basis, as well as other religious-affiliated services for people on the streets in the area.
The city also launched, years ago, a homeless liaison police team with special training and skills.
It’s safe to say that, in the arena of homeless services, if Santa Monica hasn’t tried it, it doesn’t exist. Over the years I have reported about people living in parks, people complaining that they didn’t get enough help, people complaining that all the homeless services were put in their area, etc. etc.
One of the most poignant stories I covered was one of the earliest: the homeless march from L.A. to Malibu led by the activist Ted Hayes. This was in the late 1980s, when working people priced out of housing were camping in tents in the local mountains. I covered them, too.
I once took photos of a homeless woman demonstrating to the press how she took a “spit bath” in the public restroom at Santa Monica City Hall. It was pretty amazing.
When I migrated downcoast to Orange County about four years ago, one of the big issues festering in Santa Monica was whether or not to build an even larger homeless service center there.
Because, despite all these herculean efforts at getting homeless people off the streets and into housing, more seemed to arrive every year.
Unfortunately, “build it, and they will come” is at least as true for homeless service facilities as it is for roads, bridges and stadiums.
Another major issue in Santa Monica that I wrote about was an effort being led by newly elected City Councilman Robert Shriver — whose brother-in-law happens to be the governor — to get cities around Santa Monica to shoulder some of the burden.
Officials came up with a plan and a slogan in an effort to rally cities like Beverly Hills, Culver City, Malibu and others to get behind a plan to help the homeless in their own front yards instead of sending them elsewhere, i.e., to Santa Monica.
It was an open joke that police in surrounding cities would put homeless people on a bus to Santa Monica, or point them in that direction. Like downtown L.A.’s skid row, Santa Monica had became a dumping ground for unwanted people with nowhere else to go.
It was, to say the least, a very tough sell.
I see the same thing happening here in Laguna Beach. The law firm that is suing Laguna Beach for not doing enough for the homeless is in Newport Beach, which “helps” its homeless by sending them elsewhere — hey, Laguna’s just down the highway — for help. There are no shelters or meal programs in Newport, such as the ones that exist in Laguna, I’m told. Yet, under the gun of this federal lawsuit, the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday rescinded an 81-year-old ordinance that prohibited people from camping on public land, or sleeping on the beach between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This type of anti-camping law is in place in all the cities surrounding Laguna Beach — including Newport.
The revised ordinance allows sleeping, camping and pitching of tents on public land if the tents are open to public view on at least two sides, and no more than six feet tall or six feet square.
This will give respite for people who have little recourse but to sleep in the parks and beaches, but it also gives a green light to all those other cities to send “their” homeless to Laguna.
It remains to be seen what the effect of this ordinance will be, and whether it will encourage more homeless people to come to Laguna.
But it seems pretty certain this will happen, and, indeed, may already be happening.
Around the time that the homeless lawsuit was announced in December and had gotten national attention, I was walking on the boardwalk at Main Beach and saw a hand-lettered sign placed on the walkway, above a blanket with a young couple reclining in the shade below.
The sign said: “New to Laguna and homeless. Please help.” I am not saying that Laguna Beach cannot or should not do more for homeless people. But Laguna Beach cannot do it alone.
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.