Efforts to help homeless extended

Following the deaths of two homeless people, a pilot program shuttling Costa Mesa's homeless to spend nights at an emergency shelter in Santa Ana has been extended through Wednesday, service providers said.

Pick-ups will take place at about 4 p.m. daily at the Lighthouse Church, 1885 Anaheim Ave., said Becks Heyhoe of the Churches Consortium, a homeless outreach program.

They'll take homeless people to stay at the Armory emergency shelter run by Mercy House in Santa Ana.

Then, a bus will leave Santa Ana for the Lighthouse at 6:15 a.m.

Update: Organizers said the departure time from the armory in the morning is now scheduled for 6 a.m., not 6:15 a.m. 

After a homeless man and woman were found dead on city streets Tuesday — just after the height of the cold snap — Costa Mesa scrambled to take action. The coroner is conducting autopsies to determine what caused the deaths.

Tuesday night, said Assistant City CEO Rick Francis, police officers canvassed areas where homeless people often sleep, offering rides to the shelter and, in the case of one woman in poor health, arranged for a comped night's stay at a local motel.

But, he said, those measures were limited.

"We're reacting to a set circumstance," Francis said Wednesday. "You don't have time to craft policy. You have to act more immediately."

So, on Wednesday, he said city staffers rushed to come up with a longer-term solution.

Muriel Ullman, who has helped lead those efforts as part of the city's Housing and Community Development department, arranged the shuttle service, which she said will cost the city no more than $200 a day.

"We'll try this out to see if people will be willing to come to this," she said Wednesday. "We think this is a really important need."

Though just three men boarded a full-sized charter bus at the Lighthouse on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the test run, organizers hope that as word spreads, more of Costa Mesa's homeless will take advantage of the ride to shelter.

Heyhoe said Thursday that a handful of volunteers went back out to let more of the city's homeless know about the service.

Douglas Webb, who has spent about two years homeless and traveling around, said the past week's chilly nights are nothing compared to the ones in his hometown, Tacoma, Wash.

Nevertheless, he said, after Heyhoe approached him about taking the shuttle, he wouldn't pass up a chance to sleep indoors. He'd also tried staying at the Lighthouse, which opened its doors to about 20 homeless people Tuesday night, but he wasn't keen on the vibe.

Despite having doubts about the shelter, too, Webb said he hoped it'd be better.

"I heard the Armory wasn't a good place to go to," he said. "But I'll try it out."


Twitter: @jillcowan

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