Officials: All hands needed to alleviate homelessness

Huntington Beach and Orange County officials agree that it will take a lengthy, concerted effort from private- and public-sector groups to properly address the city and county's chronic homeless problem.

Cooperation among faith groups, nonprofits, city and county governments, police agencies and the public is a must, officials said during a City Council study session Monday.

"This isn't just a social program, this isn't just a housing program. This isn't just law enforcement," Mayor Matthew Harper said. "I really appreciate that all of you have an understanding that this is about integrating a lot of government resources and a lot of charitable resources as well."

Members of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness briefed the council on its 10-year plan and some of its milestones and accomplishments since it launched in 2010.

The number of homeless people, sheltered and unsheltered, countywide has dropped from 8,333 in 2009 to 4,251 in 2013, according to a presentation given by commission member Allan Roeder. The data was compiled by about 700 volunteers surveying homeless people in a single day in 2009, 2011 and 2013, Roeder said.

Roeder, a former Costa Mesa city manager, said faith-based communities and nonprofits were the major reasons why the numbers were reduced because they offered food, shelter and support for those who wanted help. He added that it will take time, collaboration and patience while working with other groups to further lower that figure.

"There will be many points of frustration along the way," he said. "We've worked with cities that felt that they were right on the verge of being able to put together a package for an emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent housing only to have those [plans] unfold."

He said there isn't a cookie-cutter solution that will solve problems in every city and the county.

"We find in Orange County that cities that we've met ... [have] a very specific approach and different need within in their community," Roeder said. "Flexibility and how you approach that is really the key."

Monday's study session was the result of a compromise on the council. Joe Carchio had asked in February to form a task force on the homeless.

Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy, Sgt. Dave Wiederin and Officer Brian Smith gave a presentation about the homeless situation in Huntington Beach.

Since Sept. 2013, the department has conducted monthly outreach patrols and surveyed 118 people who said they were homeless.

Officers gathered basic information, such as gender and age. The survey also asked how long the interviewees had been homeless, if they were receiving government benefits, if they had drug or alcohol addictions and whether they suffered from a mental illness.

Of those questioned, 41 people said they were alcoholics, 32 said they had a drug addiction and 47 cited a mental illness. The average age was about 44 for men and 43 for women.

The presentation identified areas in the city, such as the Beach Boulevard corridor, the Santa Ana River Channel, Central Park, Pier Plaza and downtown Huntington Beach, where transients are known to be found.

The police officials explained that the program is not only a way to identify the homeless but also figure out what kind of help needs to be provided.

Smith said officers on their outreach patrol will hand out fliers with phone numbers and locations where the homeless can seek help and shelter. Law enforcement will warn folks if they are breaking the law and cite or arrest them when necessary.

Smith said that those looking for help will pursue available options, but others might be fine right where they are.

"A large number said that they're just comfortable with their lifestyle, this is the choice they've made, and this is how they want to do it," he said.

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