Task force decides on stringent guidelines

COSTA MESA — The city's Homeless Task Force has tentatively decided that only those with strong ties to the community be allowed to qualify for homeless services.

The qualifications are largely based on those used by the city's Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The HPRP outlines that a person must have lived in Costa Mesa within the past 24 months, for at least 90 days, with proof of residency, including a previous lease, proof of utility service, written proof of residency from a landlord or school records.

Other conditions include having an immediate family member living inside city limits. Also, if someone is known to police or code enforcement as being homeless for years up until the services became available, he or she could get "grandfathered" into the system.

Additional extending circumstances include being "medically compromised," or older than 65 and unintentionally homeless.

Although the 18-member task force voted on qualifications for services Aug. 17, the boundaries could change as the group researches the recommendations it will make to the council.

"The definition that came up isn't going to be a perfect one," said task force member Larry Haynes. "There are going to be folks that think it's too inclusive and there are going to be folks that think it's too exclusive. Given the … wide-ranging opinions, it was pretty extraordinary" that the task force came up with an almost unanimous vote on the definition.

City Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who serves on the task force, said the group sets limits on who qualifies to discourage other municipalities from "dumping" homeless people here and to distance the city from its current image as one that draws in homeless people.

"Costa Mesa has been a magnet destination for homeless persons for a long time," Leece wrote in an email. "We need to define Costa Mesa homeless resident[s] to discourage many other cities from referring and sending their homeless persons to CM … There has to be a limit as to how many homeless people CM can help get off the street and back into a productive life if possible. Other cities need to do their fair share."

Those in transitional housing, including people who live in Costa Mesa motels, would not qualify for services under the tentative definition.

The task force was careful in drawing its limits, emphasizing people with strong ties to the city, but shying away from acting as a homeless service provider for the entire county, Haynes said.

"If every city in Orange County would take the direction that places like Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa are, if every city would buy into the notion of 'fair share' … I think we would end homelessness in 10 years," he said. "We could see something really extraordinary happening in Orange County."

The three subcommittees — data, services and general — are also expected to meet and brainstorm on possible ordinances and services to later recommend to the City Council in a February presentation.

Among the ideas that have been presented to the task force are: lockers for homeless people, a smoking ban in certain areas, extending public drinking laws, revising anti-camping laws and imposing limits on storing personal property, including bicycles, in public spaces.

Intern Derek Levoit last Wednesday presented a case study on Pasadena and highlighted the similarities between the two cities, including median income, although Pasadena has nearly 10 times the number of people living on the streets.

In addition to Pasadena, the Costa Mesa task force has studied actions taken by Laguna Beach, Ontario and St. Petersburg, Fla.

The task force is expected to meet in October to create a strategies report and compile preliminary recommendations to present to the council later.

The group is dark in November and December.

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