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Shelter could open next week

A nighttime haven for about 50 of Laguna’s homeless population could open at ACT V by Wednesday.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a tentative agreement with a collaboration of three nonprofit organizations to operate the ACT V facility; criteria to determine eligibility if the shelter is overwhelmed; and the first reading of an ordinance that prohibits camping or sleeping on public property unless designated by the city.

Speaking on behalf of collaborators Mercy House and the Laguna Relief and Resource Center, Friendship Shelter Executive Director Dawn Price commended the city for pursuing a safe, alternative sleeping site and sustenance for homeless people.

“Over the past few weeks, our organizations have been working hard alongside city staff to make this alternative work,” said Price, speaking for Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes and Resource Center Board Chairman Jason Paransky.

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Key terms of the draft agreement:

 The city will provide a 2,900-square-foot modular unit with two restrooms, utilities, a storage container, sleeping mats, two picnic tables, and chain link fencing for an entrance to the facility; pay for the permits and monthly utility bills and $16,662 a month to the collaboration to operate the facility; and budget $5,000 for incidental expenses, for a total cash outlay of $138,000 if the site is in operation from November to mid-June and the $5,000 is spent.

Evening transportation to the facility will be provided by the city buses, which already make the trip to ACT V, their nighttime depot, on weekdays. Other means of transportation must be used on weekends.

 The collaboration will staff the location from 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day through June 15.

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Two trained and paid staff members will supervise the facility during operating hours, except for one hour before it opens and between 1 and 4 p.m. when one staff member will be on duty.

Services will include managing volunteers; working with other service organizations and governmental agencies; coordinating meal programs; providing transportation assistance for homeless people with special needs; administering a program to provide showers at the resource center; laundering and maintain blankets, among other services.

Regular reports will be made to the city on the use of the facility.

The agreement can be terminated by the city with 30 days’ notice, by the collaboration with 60 days’ notice.

City Manager Ken Frank was authorized to execute an agreement with the collaboration that materially complies with the draft agreement provided at the meeting and indemnification of the city.

Due to the expedited pace of the preparation of the agreement, last minute changes are likely, according to Assistant City Manager John Pietig, the city’s point man on the project.

One addition to the draft agreement was approved at the meeting: morning bus service back into town. The buses will leave ACT V at 6:10 a.m., more than an hour earlier than the sleeping site’s closing time. It means morning food servers and distributors of sack lunches will have to be there earlier for those who want a free ride back to town, rather than hoofing it or paying a fare on an Orange County bus.

“It’s a trade off,” Haynes said. “Later would be better, but it’s worth it.”

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Committee on Homelessness member Arnold Hano said it was important for people not to feel they were stuck at ACT V and the return bus might relieve some of the canyon residents’ sense that they are being dumped on.

A volunteer transportation service is also in the works, Hano said.

Safety is less of a problem in the morning than at night, Pietig opined, but the issue needs to be considered.

Pietig advised the council that the return trip on a city bus should not add much, if anything, to the cost of the project and the early service can be revisited if it appears not to be working.

“If you have a bus, it should just keep going to the county facility,” said Mark Mani. “I am not cold-hearted, but I am really opposed to the shelter and the homeless community has said they don’t want it.”

Doug DuMaurier, who claims residency under the third bush on the right, said he knows of only one person who might go to ACT V — and it isn’t him.

“It will be a G—D— cold day in H— before you get me into a camp,” DuMaurier said later in the meeting, after describing the ACT V shelter as a concentration camp.

Participation by homeless folks is voluntary, but the council gave preliminary approval Tuesday of an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property at any time and prohibits sleeping on beaches and in parks from one hour after sunset to 5 a.m. the next morning.

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The ordinance is based on Santa Ana’s, which has withstood court challenges. Laguna rescinded its previous ordinance after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in December challenging the legality of banning the homeless from sleeping on public property without offering an alternative.

If approved at the second reading at the Nov. 17 meeting, the new ordinance will go into effect Dec. 18. In the meantime, the city will enforce a state law prohibiting camping on beaches within days after the ACT V facility is in operation.

The city has worked assiduously since the ACLU suit was settled to find a location for an alternate site, spurred by residents’ complaints and an increase in activities in parks and on beaches that required police action.

After selecting ACT V, the city began meeting with three nonprofit organizations on the nuts and bolts of managing the operation.

“Over the past few weeks our organizations have been working hard alongside city staff to make this alternative work,” Price said. “We have a sound and effective collaboration that draws on each organization’s strengths.

“Laguna Relief and Resource Center brings years of ‘boots on the ground’ service to homeless individuals and a rich array of caring, willing volunteers to support the effort.

Mercy House brings a wealth of technical and practical expertise and advice from its experience running armory programs in Santa Ana and Fullerton.

“Our organization, Friendship Shelter, brings local staff and program management to supervise the staff and run the day-to-day operations.”

Mace Wolf expressed fear that the comforts offered by the city/nonprofits collaboration would draw more homeless to Laguna.

“No one knows how many people will use the shelter, or how soon they will use it,” Pietig said.

If the shelter is overwhelmed by people wanting a clean dry place to sleep and be fed, preference will be given to folks with strong ties to Laguna: family in town, those who went to school here, once lived in a residence here, or are known to Laguna Beach Police Department to have been homeless here for at least 18 months.

The eligible population is estimated at 45 to 55 people.

“So you are going to spend a couple hundred thousand for 45 people?” Wolf commented.

Oakley Frost said it would be money well spent if it does the job. He expressed fear that the limitations could lead to a legal test case.

“The concept of not serving someone is alien to us,” Haynes said. “We are hard-wired that way.

However, the staff recommendation is a fail-safe measure, not to be initiated right away, Haynes said.

“But we need to think about what we do then,” Haynes said.

He suggested finding out if the city is adversely impacted by policies in surrounding communities and then hold them responsible for their own citizens.

Those who don’t meet the Laguna test would be advised of other alternatives, including Project Homecoming, which provides financial assistance in reuniting families.

“It is not the council’s intent to create a regional facility, but to address local concerns about the use of the parks and beaches,” Pietig said.



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