Center to halt its services at ASL [Corrected]

The Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center will discontinue daytime services for the city's homeless population at the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) on Oct. 15.

City officials said options are being discussed, but they declined further comment on the talks held this week with representatives of the Friendship Shelter, which is contracted by the city to operate the ASL at night, and the resource center, which has determined it does not have the financial resources to continue its work at the ASL as well as its other operations.

An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center couldn't continue working at the Alternative Sleeping location or its other operations. In fact, the center says it can't work at ASL and do its other operations, so it's cutting back on the ASL.

"Because we will no longer operate at the ASL, we will be able to expand services to low-income families and the homeless, as well as be available in disasters," said resource center board President Andy Sigenfeld.

The center was founded in the wake of the 1993 firestorm and later expanded its mission to help Laguna's needy, but it's always at the forefront of assistance to victims of disasters — mudslides, landslides and floods.

An agreement with the city to operate the daytime services at the sleeping location was a solution to finding a home for the center a couple of years ago when it lost its lease.

"The program was designed to help the center relocate," said City Manager John Pietig. "The guidelines for the ASL were established by the city, and we work closely with them."

The center donated $65,000 and agreed to pay $950 a month for the use of the ASL during the day, which included providing showers and laundry facilities to the homeless.

Under a separate contract, the center agreed to pay $1,000 a month to rent another building on the site that is used to store and distribute clothing and food.

Sigenfeld said recent published reports that the center is broke and bills are unpaid are absolutely untrue.

The center plans to continue to occupy the smaller building called the Pantry, from which food, clothing and helpful information is dispensed.

"We will be doing casework and be a resource for low-income families and the homeless — directing them to medical and social services," Sigenfeld said. "We will be servicing a much larger segment of the population."

The ASL is supposed to serve a maximum of 50 people a night, although that number may have been exceeded on occasion.

Sigenfeld said the decision to pull out of the ASL does not sit well with homeless advocates. In fact, some of the center's board members opposed it.

"I do not favor abandoning the homeless," said center board member Arnold Hano. "The vote was 4 to 2. I was one of the two, with Faye Chapman."

Chapman, who chairs the city's Housing and Human Services Committee, recently resigned as president of the resource center's board to concentrate on the Hunger Bowl, one of the two center fundraisers.

"Starting early this year, we had a budget for the first time and a treasurer for the first time in a year," Chapman said. "We had a little money coming in and money going out. Sooner or later the well runs dry.

"The generosity of one donor was primarily focused on the services to the homeless and helping them move on."

But those funds were redirected to assist the victims of the flooding and pay the salary of the center's first full-time executive director, Chapman said.

Donna Valente was hired in October 2010 and barely had time to get her feet wet before the floods of December.

"Assistance to the victims was necessary," said Hano, who also served on the city's Homeless Task Force. "That is why we exist — to lend a hand. But it was a double-whammy.

"… we are not yet well-enough engaged in fundraising, and we don't know how to write grants."

Funding for the center comes from donations and proceeds from the Hunger Bowl and Evonne Kane's Benefit Boutique.

"As we move forward, we will be doing more fundraising," Sigenfeld said.

Pietig said options for daytime operation at the ASL will be presented to the council at the first meeting in October.

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