I live in an area called Top of the World, or TOW for short, in Laguna Beach. It’s about a mile straight up from the village. Looking down at the Pacific Ocean, and what seems like endless canyons, hills and prehistoric-looking vegetation, it feels like living in a Dr. Seuss book.
I would see the homeless along Laguna Canyon Road, hidden in the nooks and crannies of this incredibly beautiful town, a stark contrast to the rest of the residents.
The residents of Laguna Beach are eclectic. Hippie chic, cottage preppy and cosmopolitan. There are cars that look like they just drove off a movie set and dogs, dogs, dogs.
I decided to go to the the Alternative Sleeping Location. That’s where the homeless stay.
I parked and walked to a small, one-story trailer that I later found out was called “The Box,” the kind you see at construction sites but a bit bigger. People were standing around, seemingly aimless.
I walked in and wrote my name down on the white board to see if I could get a bed. The beds are actually blue mats about a foot apart, 45 in total. There were three washing machines, three showers and two toilets. The men and women were separated by a row of foldout tables. I didn’t get a bed.
It meant I would have to sleep outside the chain link fence that surrounded The Box. Twenty slept in the lot if they didn’t get a mat. They suggested I sleep in my car with the doors locked. I asked how long I could stay in The Box before I had to leave. I was told 10:30 p.m.
For a cigarette, I could get a life story. The first person I spoke to was a pretty young woman who was seven months pregnant. I asked her why she was there. She told me her ex tried to kill her and the domestic violence shelters were full.
A veteran showed up for a cigarette. He told me he got hooked on oxycontin after an operation. Once in rehab he relapsed. He claimed there were drugs and alcohol everywhere in the rehab.
I spoke to a man in his 70s. He had neatly combed white hair, eyeglasses and a pressed shirt. He said he still had a shop in town but when the rent went up and his wife got cancer, the bills wiped them out. He asked me not to mention his name. He didn’t want people in town to know.
There were two women who worked until 11 each night. They called me into the office. They figured I wasn’t homeless. They told me that the severely mentally ill, PTSD sufferers, addicts and those who fell through the cracks financially, were all crammed in together.
I got in my car and quickly locked the doors. I was scared I would run over someone on the ground as I reversed.
It was cold, and my back window had fogged up. People started walking toward me. No one I recognized. I punched it into drive and took off. Couldn’t wait to leave. But now I feel sick about the way I felt. Maybe that was progress after all.
Allison Mathews is a candidate for Laguna Beach City Council.