Shelter looking for room to grow

Representatives of a Laguna Beach emergency housing shelter are hoping to gain use of city-owned land in Laguna Canyon that could permanently house 40 residents with severe mental health issues.

Friendship Shelter staff have submitted a proposal to the city and are awaiting a response, the shelter's executive director Dawn Price said Monday.

"We're in the conceptual stage, so there's not a lot of details," Price said. "We've said all along, ever since the ASL [Alternative Sleeping Location] opened up in 2009, that the shelter isn't going to solve the problem. The problem is that certain people have mental health challenges that prevent them from earning money. In order to live independently, they need support."

The ASL, an emergency shelter at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, houses 45 people nightly. The Friendship Shelter, at 1335 S. Coast Hwy., provides temporary housing, meals and support services such as individualized case management and job training for 32 men and women, according to the shelter's website.

The piece of land being sought is adjacent to the ASL, near the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. It currently provides storage space for items such as lifeguard towers and occasionally functions as a construction staging area, Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson said.

It's a little more than 2 acres, city planner Carolyn Martin wrote in an email.

Shelter staff can provide only certain services under current conditions, which is the reason for pursuing permanent-housing options, according to Price.

"The shelter's main goal isn't housing, it's shelter," Price said. "The emergency part is critical to keeping people safe, but it's not permanent enough for a person to take a risk [such as seeking an education or a new job]."

Friendship Shelter partnered with Irvine-based Jamboree Housing Corp., which develops and builds affordable housing communities, in drawing up the proposal.

Candidates for permanent supportive housing would be people "who can't live successfully in a group setting, who need privacy and work one-on-one to address their issues," Price said.

Orange County has at least two permanent supportive housing facilities: Jackson Aisle in Midway City and Diamond Apartments in Anaheim, Price said.

Jamboree was involved with both facilities, according to the company's list of properties.

Since 2003, Jackson Aisle has provided 29 studio apartments for previously homeless single adults recovering from mental illness, according to Jamboree Housing's website.

"In addition to mental health treatment from county or county-contracted service providers, there is a case manager on-site at Jackson Aisle seven days a week to assist residents," the website said.

Friendship Shelter is considering other locations for permanent supportive housing in south Orange County, according to Price.

"We have looked at numerous sites, including hotels that were for sale and the property that is now the Glennwood [House] project," Price wrote in an email. "Laguna Beach has very little available land at all, and some sites were cost-prohibitive.

"The fact that we've successfully run a program on this site [ASL] for 3 1/2 years, and that adding a permanent housing program would only increase the amount of professional staff oversight and management, makes us feel that it would be a win-win for everyone to consider that site."

The city has not taken any action on the proposal and is evaluating all the information, according to Johnson.

"There will be lots of opportunity for public input," she said.

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