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Commentary: Costa Mesa’s success in addressing homeless is a story worth writing

From 2013 to 2015, the city of Costa Mesa helped house 122 individuals and reconnected 31 homeless with their families, providing more than 150 people with a roof over their heads once again.

This remarkable piece of news speaks volumes to an innovative strategy and the tireless efforts of our church partners, volunteers and staff, and one would think it would make front page news of our local newspaper.

Instead an article in the Daily Pilot of Feb. 5 by reporter Bradley Zint titled, “45% rise in Costa Mesa’s homeless population, survey finds,” candidly missed the real story of what is happening in Costa Mesa and how we are leading the charge throughout the county in finding new and creative ways to assist those who are down on their luck.

An increase in the homeless population is not a story unique to Costa Mesa. Newport Beach, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Irvine and Brea all face the same thing. No city is immune from this issue.

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Indeed, read any news site in the country and the headlines are all the same: joblessness and homelessness is on the rise countywide, statewide and nationally, largely thanks to bad public policy from our liberal friends in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

But the Daily Pilot’s story would have you think it’s a Costa Mesa problem. It neglected to put the problem of homelessness into context, and it glossed over and seriously downplayed the great success and progress the city of Costa Mesa’s public-private partnership has made.

As I have said many times, government cannot solve this problem but a community and our individuals can.

In 2011, the council and city leaders embarked on a quest to help Costa Mesa residents who are homeless find a path out of their dilemma. In fact, Costa Mesa’s approach to homelessness is one that multiple cities are now looking to model.

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Ours is a tough-love, carrot-and-stick approach that recognizes homelessness cannot be a lifestyle and, if ignored, will become a public safety issue. Our approach uses a wide range of strategies that combines law enforcement, street outreach, prevention, rehabilitation, housing assistance and volunteer coordination.

And guess what? It’s working.

During that same time period as the Vanguard survey cited in the Daily Pilot story (2013 to 2015), our outreach staff has placed 122 homeless in housing and reconnected 31 with their families. In addition, we have 60-plus people whose housing placement is pending or are using city housing vouchers. That’s the real number the Pilot should have focused on.

Costa Mesa’s success comes largely from our residents, volunteers and our Network for Homeless Solutions, which is made up of representatives from the CEO, city attorney, police, Planning and Code Enforcement office, as well as clergy and those from the faith-based community and mental health and community outreach workers.

Our city spends an enormous amount of time, money and resources helping and housing Costa Mesans in need. In 2015 alone, our staff logged 3,550 hours working directly on this very important issue.

Additionally, we have taken several enforcement measures to improve the quality of life for our residents who are directly affected by homeless issues. That includes working with the county, Caltrans, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Costa Mesa Police Department and Costa Mesa Code Enforcement to cleanup homeless encampments on county lands and near freeways.

We are using law enforcement to target the prostitution and drug activity, and we have hired more park rangers to closely monitor activities in our parks to ensure the public’s access and enjoyment of the city’s recreational facilities.

Along with my fellow council members, we enacted other innovative ordinances such as a smoking ban in city parks and we strengthened the city’s camping ordinance so that unattended property will be removed and stored for a period of time, and abandoned property will be disposed of.

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We have identified chronic offenders who cause major nuisances in the community and disregard compliance with established laws. We have also worked with the city attorney, the Costa Mesa Police Department and faith-based community and mental health workers to increase penalties for chronic offenders.

But we are also helping the chronic homeless find new lives. For example, we recently placed a person who had mental health issues in housing after 40 years on the street.

As mayor, I have seen the issues first hand in Technicolor as I regularly walk the city and work closely with city staff to address major problems, which is why I really take this personally and want the whole story to be told.

I respect this longtime reporter who has great knowledge of our city, which is why I’m so dismayed in this unbalanced story that disregards the hundreds of hours of success put in by volunteers and the daily hard work of our police, code enforcement, outreach workers and clergy.

In the future, it is my hope that the members of the media focus more on our successes and tell the full, balanced story about the problems we face and the hard work and efforts we are and undertaking to solve them.

STEVE MENSINGER is the mayor of Costa Mesa.


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