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Commentary: Homelessness is costly, inhumane and calls for permanent supportive housing

The courtyard at The Cove Apartments in Newport Beach.
The courtyard at The Cove Apartments in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Homelessness is one of the most pressing issues in Costa Mesa, and if elected mayor in November, I will continue to work toward eliminating homelessness in our city.

A 2017 study conducted by UC Irvine, United Way and Jamboree Housing estimated the annual cost of homelessness in Orange County to be $299 million, $120 million of which is shouldered by cities.

Because so much of our first responders’ time is spent on the homeless, the rest of the community’s public safety is at greater risk. Additionally, the study found, homelessness costs our county’s hospitals $77 million annually, making health care more expensive for everyone.

We must solve homelessness, not only because it is so costly, but also because it erodes our quality of life and leads to profound human suffering in our community.


While serving as mayor in March 2017, I brought together the City Council and executive staff to prioritize our efforts. We all agree that addressing homelessness is a top priority.

For years, we have had an extensive program to address homelessness in Costa Mesa. Each Thursday at City Hall, the Network for Homeless Solutions, which includes city staff and representatives of local nonprofits, meets to discuss specific cases and developments in our efforts to reduce homelessness in Costa Mesa.

The city devotes about $1 million each year to combating homelessness. Funds are expended on outreach workers as well as police officers assigned to our community policing unit. In the 2018-19 budget, we allocated an additional $100,000 to mitigate the effects of homelessness, such as trash and loitering. This was in direct response to a survey I initiated to local businesses conducted earlier this year in which business owners emphasized these effects hurt their bottom line.

Costa Mesans encounter homelessness every day, but without the consistent work of city staff and our community partners, such as Trellis, things would be much worse. Through these efforts, including the humane enforcement of our anti-camping laws, we have avoided dangerous and unsanitary encampments, such as those experienced in Anaheim at the Santa Ana River trail and at the Santa Ana Civic Center. Still, there is more that can and should be done, especially on a regional level.


My City Council colleague John Stephens is the chairman of the Assn. of California Cities Orange County Task Force, an advocacy group for Orange County cities. In February, I attended a meeting held by the ACC-OC, along with Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do and elected officials from 31 cities in Orange County.

At that meeting, the ACC-OC rolled out a plan to develop 2,700 permanent supportive housing units countywide over the next seven years. Both private and public funding would be used to achieve this goal, and pending legislation (Assembly Bill 448) would establish the Orange County Housing Trust, which may be used to pool public (i.e., state grants) and private funds to provide financing for the permanent supportive housing projects. In June, Costa Mesa sent a letter to the state Senate endorsing AB448, which is sponsored by most state legislators from Orange County.

The Orchard, developed by Community Development Partners and operated by Mercy House, is a successful example of a permanent supportive housing project in Santa Ana. Formerly a dilapidated, abandoned motel, most of the residents of the 71-unit project were relocated from the Civic Center encampment. These individuals are now permanently off the streets.

Another noteworthy example is the Cove in Newport Beach, recently launched by Community Development Partners and and Mercy House. The Cove is a permanent supportive apartment complex serving formerly homeless veterans and seniors.

Projects like the Orchard and the Cove provide hope that we can substantially reduce homelessness in Orange County in the foreseeable future if we have a regional plan (including public and private funding) and stick to it.

Preventing Homelessness and addressing its impacts requires thoughtful consideration, long term planning, intentional effective interventions and compassionate enforcement, not just talking points. My sleeves are rolled up and I will continue to work to make the city better for our families.

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Katrina Foley is running for mayor.