On Wednesday, I attended the second meeting of the Costa Mesa Homeless Task Force at the Neighborhood Community Center right by the epicenter of homelessness — Lions Park.
The meeting lasted three hours and, in addition to the presentations by the Homeless Task Force members themselves, it included several poignant testimonials by homeless and formerly homeless individuals who recounted their journey to and from homelessness.
Chairman of the Task Force, Daily Pilot real estate columnist Steve Smith, and the facilitator of the group, Vanguard University's Larry Haynes, did a good job of keeping the agenda on track. Each speaker had done his or her homework and delivered their messages clearly and crisply.
While crime is down throughout the city, it is up significantly around Lions Park. Calls for service by both the police and fire departments is up in that area, due mainly to the chronically homeless folks who inhabit that area. Several speakers told of being afraid of using Lions Park because of being threatened by the homeless folks who use the park for a site for illegal activities.
I came away from the meeting with the strong feeling that there is the infrastructure in place via a consortium of local churches and several private and public social service agencies to provide significant assistance to those among us who are homeless and want to change that lifestyle. As one speaker stated, it is a problem of navigating through the paperwork and identifying entities that can help each individual that is so daunting for those among us living on the streets, in the parks and alleys in our city. That speaker suggested the need of an "advocate," someone to help the homeless with that navigation problem.
Here's my suggestion, which would actually kill two birds with one stone.
First, identify a site that can be leased or purchased for a new, enhanced job center. Some will recall that the original Costa Mesa Job Center on Placentia was created more than 25 years ago to meet a very specific need: to provide a place for job seekers to congregate and be screened in an orderly fashion to help meet the requirements of the then-recently passed non-solicitation ordinance. It served our community — and surrounding communities — well for almost two decades.
It was short-sightedly closed by an initiative launched by then, and current, Mayor Gary Monahan in an effort to placate Westside activists who claimed it was a magnet for undesirables. Since that time, the primarily day laborers who used to meet at the Job Center to find work have scattered throughout the city, still looking for work.
By re-establishing a job center — probably on the Westside, where the need is — and including in the staffing an "advocate" to assist homeless people in identifying services that can help them re-enter the mainstream and find housing and jobs, we would doubly serve our community with two glaring needs.
We cannot worry about such a facility becoming a magnet; that ship has sailed. Our area already is a magnet because of the temperate climate and the availability of services. The challenge now is how to manage this issue. I think a "resource center," which combines both a job center and homeless outreach advocate, could be a good first step.
Since the city is in the midst of creating the budget for 2011-12, now is the time to find a way to fund such an effort. Perhaps we could encourage our friends in Newport Beach to share in some of the costs since their businesses and residents benefited from the former job center and would certainly do so again.
GEOFF WEST is a Costa Mesa resident and author of a local blog, A Bubbling Cauldron.