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SOUNDING OFF: City needs leadership on homeless issue

Now that the city and the ACLU are involved in negotiations behind closed doors to try to resolve the lawsuit, a number of voices are being heard on both sides trying to shape the discussion (“Ordinance repealed," Feb. 20).

From the left, we hear entreaties to build facilities to feed, house and rehabilitate our homeless. From the right, we hear urgent calls for tough police action to enforce regulations concerning panhandling, vagrancy and sleeping on the beach.

At the same time, economic conditions are deteriorating and unemployment is increasing rapidly reaching double digits in Southern California. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more homeless are arriving in town every day. Some on the right attribute this increase to a lax enforcement of vagrancy laws, and those on the left to the sins of the capitalist system.

There is no doubt that the problems that cause homelessness are not purely local. These economic and social conditions are well-documented and do not need to be detailed here. What we do know is that all levels of government and society need to work together if we are to minimize their impacts.

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Much has been written and said about the homeless and the ACLU lawsuit against Laguna Beach. Some has been helpful but some has not. I suggest a time out for all sides while we consider this issue from new points of view.

So, what should we do?

1. Let’s start out by acknowledging that both sides are right. Let’s turn down the volume on our discourse on this issue.

2. We need to help those of our neighbors who fall on hard times and become homeless.

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a. Let’s develop a program to take care of Laguna’s own long-term homeless populations. We know who they are. We should have policies and programs in place to help these local citizens when they need our compassion and assistance.

b. Let’s build a safety net to identify those of our neighbors and friends who, for no fault of their own, find themselves hungry, homeless or ill. After all, if any of us were to find ourselves homeless, we would wish for our neighbors to lend us a hand.

3. We must not let Laguna Beach become a beacon for homeless people from across the county, state or nation. Let’s make it clear that we have room for only our own homeless and, when there is no more room at the inn, we acknowledge this without criminalizing homelessness. Homelessness is not a crime and should not be treated as such.

4. Our City Council must work closely with other nearby cities, the county and state government to develop regional solutions that provide systemic resolutions to the issue of homelessness. Nothing less will do.

a. Work with regional Day Worker Hiring Centers to provide work for those homeless who need and can hold a job.

b. Work with the Community Clinic System to provide health-care resources to the homeless.

c. Find or develop regional shelters and transportation alternatives for those who need a temporary roof over their heads. Develop our own limited shelter for our short-term needs and tie it into such a regional system.

d. Instruct our police to take action against any illegal behavior while providing clear training and guidelines against profiling. We must thoroughly investigate every allegation of improper police procedures but always with the safety of our officers utmost in mind.

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We can get through these difficult times without letting this issue further divide the community. Let’s do work for the same goals and develop solutions that provide care for our own without becoming a beacon for other cities’ homeless. We must look to our council for leadership on this issue.


ARMANDO BAEZ lives in Laguna Beach.


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