A surprise turn toward homelessness

Glenn Murray worked as a dental technician for 12 years and was also in construction. He wasn't rich by any stretch, but he made enough to rent a room in Laguna Beach.

Then his mother in New Orleans became sick with dementia. Murray volunteered to take care of her, draining his savings in the process.

She died in October 2012, leaving him out of the will. Murray, who graduated from Laguna Beach High School, found himself back in Orange County, staying first in a abandoned camper at a construction site in Huntington Beach and then on the streets.

Murray, now 56, found revival in the Friendship Shelter, a transitional housing and rehabilitative shelter on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. The center takes in about 32 men and women at a time, providing meals, a place to stay and clothing so clients can save money.

"I had my pride. I didn't want to get CalFresh or any government programs to help me," Murray, choking up, said of the debit-card program that has replaced traditional food stamps.

Murray feels as if life's clock has been turned back as he emerges from homelessness.

"I feel like I'm 18, trying to move out of my parents' house," he said. "The first thing to do is get a car."

Murray began saving money from his part-time construction jobs once he arrived at the Friendship Shelter about six months ago. One of his handyman gigs pays $35 an hour.

He saved $6,000 and bought a truck.

"Now I can make more money because I have transportation and be a better employee for the employer," he said. "If not for them [Friendship Shelter], I would have been in the gutter."


Laguna Resources

Many people without homes frequent Laguna Beach, sleeping on benches and the steps of businesses.

And though the community is largely tolerant, problems arise among the homeless, even when they are sheltered. The police log sometimes reveals scuffles outside the Alternative Sleeping Location, and in May police arrested an ASL resident on suspicion of assaulting a 71-year-old woman.

Laguna Beach Police Chief Paul Workman has seen the number of homeless people in the city fluctuate since he joined the force in the 1970s.

Though some critics accuse police of indiscriminately ticketing the homeless and taking their belongings, Workman said officers aren't out to get anyone and are doing all they can to address problems.

"We're not targeting homeless people," he said. "We're targeting behavioral problems. We can arrest a person 100 times a year, but we can help someone once, put him [or her] into a program."

The city installed a security camera so the police watch commander can monitor the bus depot on Broadway Street, while foot and bike patrol officers cover the city.

"We're trying to help, instead of forcing people out of the area," Workman said. "[Police Cpl.] Jason [Farris] helps get them sober, or mental health treatment. It takes multiple approaches."

Farris is the community outreach officer who works directly with the homeless in the city.

The Alternative Sleeping Location, in Laguna Canyon, houses 45 men and women each night and is one of the county's few year-round shelters, according to Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel.

About 25 to 30 of the 45 nightly residents are considered "local to Laguna Beach," meaning they meet one or more of established criteria, Siegel wrote in an email.

Criteria include having a parent, sibling or grandparent living in town; having attended Laguna public schools as a child; having previously established Laguna Beach residency; and having been homeless in the city in the 18 months before ASL's November 2009 opening.

"Before the ASL, some people stayed awake all night and then went to Main Beach in the morning to sleep, which is legal," Workman said.


Getting back up

Murray understands the burden of homelessness. He knows other folks on the street who don't want public assistance and don't want to follow societal rules.

"Homelessness buries you," Murray said. "There's not the will to try because you're buried in the system without the tools to get yourself out. If you don't have a car, you can't get a job; if you get a job, it usually doesn't pay that much, and you barely make enough money to pay rent."

Murray is scheduled to move out of the Friendship Shelter on Sept. 28. He doesn't have a place to live lined up yet.

Renting is difficult for him since he doesn't have evidence of full-time, steady work, but

at the end of this month, Murray will be in a full-time job helping to supervise new home construction in Three Arch Bay.

And he has saved money. Friendship Shelter requires residents to find employment within two weeks of arrival and save 80% of their paychecks for future housing.

"It can happen to anybody," Murray said of homelessness. "It's one of those things people say [like] 'I'll never get cancer.' Well, people do and now your life changes forever. People are out there who are homeless because it happened beyond their control."

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