Homeless housing proposed for site in Laguna Canyon

Survey stakes went up earlier this week in Laguna Canyon for a proposed two-story building that would house the chronically homeless on a permanent basis.

Friendship Shelter, a Laguna Beach agency whose aim is to help homeless adults achieve self-sufficiency, and Irvine-based Jamboree Housing Corp. are working on a proposal to build a 40-unit apartment complex at a city-owned plot between the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the dog park.

Proponents will present their plan at the City Council meeting April 22, but offered details during a conference call with the media Tuesday.

"We want to have a transparent, honest communication with the community," said Dawn Price, Friendship Shelter executive director.

Eligible clients must have been homeless for a year or longer, or homeless four times in the past three years, and have a mental or physical disability or a substance-abuse problem, according to the Friends of Supportive Housing website, which was developed by Jamboree and Friendship Shelter staff.

Clients would pay about one-third of their monthly income in rent. The money is expected to come from disability benefits.

Rent payments would average $200 to $300, said Helen Cameron, who in 1985 founded H.O.M.E.S. Inc., Orange County's first provider of permanent housing that offered support services. Cameron is now special-needs resident manager for Jamboree, which merged with H.O.M.E.S. and developed affordable homes in 67 California cities.

Jamboree also oversees Alice Court, a 27-unit apartment complex on Glenneyre Street in Laguna Beach.

"Our experience leads us to think it's an economical model," Cameron said. "We have a 98% success rate in keeping people housed. It's taking someone who might live under a tree and placing them in permanent supportive housing to keep them stable."

Clients who qualify for this program cannot live independently without ongoing support services, and must also meet state and federal requirements. The program would ideally cater to Laguna Beach homeless, but it's possible people from other cities would be accepted.

The project cost is estimated at $11 million, Jamboree senior project manager Vicky Ramirez wrote in an email.

Funding will come from private investors, along with federal, state and county agencies that support similar types of affordable housing, Ramirez said.

Ramirez estimates the facility will cost $230,000 per year to operate. These costs will be paid for through state and county agencies along with rental income from residents, she said. Each unit would be about 300 square feet, enough room for a bed, kitchen area and a desk.

The shelter would lease the land at a nominal rate that has not yet been determined, Price added.

Development plans for the project have not yet been submitted.

One of the issues still being hammered out is parking. Price said the number of spaces has not yet been determined, but the building must accommodate its own parking needs and not negatively affect nearby businesses.

"Our experience with similar developments teaches us that few residents will have cars, and thus parking needs will be lower than would be expected of a similar-sized community serving the general public," Price said.

Officials looked at multiple locations throughout Laguna but were drawn to the canyon location for a couple reasons, including cost, Friendship Shelter board member Marshall Ininns said.

"There was less of an impact on single-family residences than any [location] we looked at," Ininns said of the nearly 2-acre lot.

Having the Canyon Club, which offers alcohol recovery services, nearby is also a benefit, Price said.

The Friendship Shelter operates a temporary housing facility on Coast Highway, offering services and three meals a day for 32 adults, and the Alternative Sleeping Location, an emergency overnight shelter near the proposed project site.

The ASL would be incorporated into the development, and Friendship Shelter staff would provide on-site services.

The project would save Laguna Beach $150,000 in direct costs currently spent on operating the ASL, according to the Friends of Supportive Housing website.

"We've said all along, ever since the ASL opened up in 2009, that the shelter isn't going to solve the problem," Price said in an earlier Coastline Pilot story. "The problem is that certain people have mental health challenges that prevent them from earning money. In order to live independently, they need support."

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