Commentary: Other cities should follow Laguna’s lead in offering shelter

Guests settle in and prepare for the night at the Alternative Sleeping Location in Laguna Canyon in July 2014.
(File photo)

On Nov. 5, federal district Judge Andrew Guilford granted final approval of a settlement agreement between a class of disabled homeless individuals and the city of Laguna Beach, bringing closure to a three-year-old lawsuit that in my and many others’ view was misguided and resulted in the needless consumption of substantial resources and funds that could have been better devoted to legitimate public purposes.

At the same time, this unjust litigation has served to highlight the historic and unique commitment and efforts of the city of Laguna Beach over the last decade to address homelessness in its community.

Since 2009, the city has funded a year-round emergency overnight shelter program, known as the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL), which is operated by the Friendship Shelter under a service provider contract. The Laguna Beach ASL provides a place for 45 people to sleep each night, offering showers, hot meals, clean laundry facilities, sleeping mats, warm blankets, computer access and a case worker to connect homeless individuals with important services and resources.

The Laguna Beach ASL is the only such program of its kind in southern Orange County. It’s not a cheap program to operate. It costs the city $400,000 to operate the facility each year with a small portion of the operating costs covered by a Community Development Block Grant.

To date, the city has provided over 139,230 bed nights to homeless in need. In addition, the city has been successful in reuniting homeless individuals with their families and, with the assistance of the Friendship Shelter, has facilitated the placement of more than 85 formerly homeless men and women in transitional and permanent supportive housing.

The city has been, and continues to be, a leader among municipalities within Orange County to address homelessness. Still, others must step up and do their part. Some have begun to do so, and they are to be commended. We believe that a comprehensive approach implemented by the County of Orange and all cities within the county offers the best prospect for addressing homelessness in a meaningful way.

Such an approach must recognize that the provision of sufficient emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing are important components of an effective plan. And, more than a plan is needed. A plan will require full funding and the commitment of all responsible government agencies to be implemented. To that end, I encourage other municipalities within Orange County to work with the county to address issues relating to homelessness and to take responsibility for their fair share of solutions.

Kelly Boyd is the mayor of Laguna Beach.