It has become increasingly important that our community move diligently on the homelessness crisis that is affecting our state and region.
There are many reasons to do so:
- Our community’s quality of life is affected. Our parks, our benches, our libraries, our streets, alleys and sidewalks, and more, are all becoming places for encampments, loitering and property storage.
- Our public safety costs are rising and can be attributed in part to homelessness. The time and dollars spent on emergency medical services and police responses to homeless persons are increasingly crowding out other important safety response efforts and programs.
- We can no longer effectively remove or relocate encampments or people spread out with a lot of stuff (camping), especially if we do not have a shelter location. Recent case law hampers what we can do.
- Cities around us, including Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, are developing shelter sites. This allows them to enforce their anti-camping laws, making it more likely that shelter-resistant homeless persons will relocate to Huntington Beach and encamp here.
- It is also the compassionate thing to do for people struggling on the streets with mental health and physical health issues.
We believe that a solid solution to this crisis is to establish a navigation center. A navigation center is a shelter where access is limited, clients are screened and persons are linked to services on site to put them on a path to home, housing, mental and physical health, and to a better life. They can be in a place that is safe, can stay alongside a spouse or pet, get healthy and avoid life on the streets.
At the same time, our community, led by our Police Department, Parks and Public Works staff, can begin reclaiming our public spaces. Although a navigation center in place and operating will not solve the homeless problem, the Huntington Beach Police Department has a ramped up enforcement plan to remove encampments and restore our public spaces with compassion, determination and in full compliance with the law.
A navigation center, however, is one of the hardest land uses to place. People understandably assume the worst, even as modern-day navigation centers have integrated seamlessly into many Orange County cities in recent years.
With strong private management, controlled access, an active police presence and a solid facility, the centers can be good neighbors. We know that’s hard to believe, but we’ve seen it.
In the days to come, the City Council may be considering a new navigation center. It will be a hard, difficult decision, as many will oppose any site selected. But the alternative — not being able to enforce our anti-camping laws, continuing to give up our public spaces for something other than their intended use, and seeing our fellow human beings destitute and ill in front of us — is no alternative at all.
You have our commitment to running a top quality navigation center. If we’re given that ability, we can also commit to you vigorous enforcement of laws to reclaim the public spaces that make H.B. the great community it is.
Dave Kiff is the interim city manager of Huntington Beach. Rob Handy is Huntington Beach Police Chief.
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