The city has much to celebrate with the establishment of the emergency shelter in the ACT V parking lot. In a matter of weeks, the shelter is running remarkably smoothly, staffed by some very good people from Friendship Shelter and the Resource Center working nights and mornings to get people fed and asleep, and with the help of dozens of volunteers who provide meals, transportation and other assistance. Main Beach and Heisler Park are again clean and walkable.
But before we begin congratulating ourselves, let’s be clear what we’re celebrating: The city has cleaned up Main Beach and Heisler Park. We have not solved the homeless problem in Laguna Beach. That problem remains and will remain until we address it more fully.
To begin to fix the homeless problem, we need at least two programs we do not yet have, programs to address mental health issues and housing. Probably 75% of the homeless have serious disabilities which have driven them onto the streets (and I would include drug and alcohol abuse among them) where those issues have become behavioral problems. In order to start to confront homelessness, we need trained social workers who can help the homeless with these mental and behavioral problems, guide them into the appropriate facilities for treatment, and help them to get back on their feet.
And to begin to deal with homelessness, we need an equally necessary program for housing. The emergency shelter "” for now unfortunately called the “Alternative Sleeping Location," or ASL "” is not housing; it’s not even transitional housing, because it’s not aimed to move people to more permanent living arrangements in the future. What we need is a program like Housing First, a national program (with projects in Los Angeles) that finds housing for the homeless and helps them into it. In order to develop such a program, we would need to write the grants (federal money is out there) and find the means to bring such a program to Laguna Beach.
To help the homeless, the city needs the commitment to address the real problems. ASL is a stopgap program that will help clean up Main Beach and Heisler Park, and get the restaurants and hotels that make up our tourist base off the city’s back. The city has taken a first step. Let’s hope it now has the will to take the next necessary steps and start to address homelessness head on.
DAVID PECK lives in Laguna Beach.