Homelessness on the agenda

Members of Costa Mesa faith-based groups met Friday afternoon to discuss what progress the city and the Churches Consortium have made in addressing homelessness in the past two years. They also discussed goals for 2013.

The Churches Consortium, an initiative to assist homeless people in Costa Mesa, emerged in March 2011 after the city created the Homeless Task Force. On Friday the group met in the same room at the Neighborhood Community Center near Lions Park where it began two years ago.

Three successes enumerated by speakers accomplished by the Churches Consortium broke down to just a few words: laundry, showers and storage.

Mobile laundry and shower stations that swing by the Crossing Church on Saturdays washed 1,500 loads of laundry, and there were 1,200 showers in 2012. The check-in center at the base of the parking lot at the Crossing Church also saw 154 homeless clients check in belongings at the storage center.

All of that amounted to "a win, win, win" to consortium director Becks Heyhoe.

Since the center's inception on Jan. 3, 2012, 15 people no longer have needed the check-in center because they no longer are on the street.

Representatives from the city and the Police Department also attended the meeting and discussed successes from the government's perspective, which included ordinances and defining a homeless Costa Mesan, among other things.

Some city and faith-based collaborations included reconnections, as exemplified by a man in his 20s who was homeless while searching for a job. He found housing with his grandmother. Another man reconnected with family in New Jersey last week after being homeless in Costa Mesa for nine years.

One 2013 goal included making data-driven decisions based on information collected in the YOU Count initiative, said Vanguard University professor Ed Clarke.

Data collected in the fall from interviews and a count of homeless people on Costa Mesa streets should be available in the spring, Clarke said. Data, showing 40% of homeless in the city do not have Social Security cards, 52% are unable to get birth certificates and 60% report being in fair to poor health, will be able to show how to better serve the homeless community, Clarke said.

"The story of Costa Mesa is rapidly spreading," Clarke said. "And this model that we are working with in Costa Mesa may be the preferred model for the county. We are changing everything for how you deal with a population who are desperate and poor and need a house. So, congratulations!"

The consortium's aim is not to provide charity or create dependency for those struggling with homelessness, Heyhoe said, but to facilitate freedom and independence as captured in the example of a coffeepot at the check-in center.

Where it would have been easy to buy a coffeepot for those who asked for a warm drink at the check-in center, those who use the center's services made a flier, donation box, rules about cups (bring, don't buy) and ideas on how to get creamer. Within 10 days, a coffeepot sat outside the check in center. This, Heyhoe said, exemplified the difference between community development and charity.


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