Homeless Task Force On Track
In an earlier post I, tongue-in-cheek, suggested that I should swing past Lions Park and invite some of the homeless folks that hang out there to the meeting of the Costa Mesa Homeless Task Force last night. Silly me.. that base had already been covered.
HOMELESS IN ATTENDANCE
When I arrived at the Neighborhood Community Center around 5:15 the Adams Room already had a couple dozen visitors, including at least a dozen homeless or former homeless people. Several of them used the opportunity to speak in the Public Comments segment of the program - relating poignant, personal stories of their time as a homeless person and their individual journeys back from that difficult spot in their lives.
AROUND 80 PEOPLE SHOWED UP
I'm not going to try to give you a word-for-word summation of the evening, but will give you my impressions. I was surprised at the size of the crowd last night. The Task Force members alone accounted for around 25 people. Interested community members and homeless and former homeless folks numbers at least another 50, and included a couple of very interested Newport Beach Police Officers, auditing the activities of our task force.
First, much as it chagrins me to admit it, it looks like the Chairman of the Task Force, PR flack and Daily Pilot columnist Steve Smith, is doing a good job. He managed the meeting with gusto and, along with Facilitator Larry Haynes of Vanguard University and Mercy House, kept the agenda moving right along.
BROWN ACT FOR DUMMIES
Christian Bettenhausen, one of our contract attorneys from Jones & Mayer, gave a brief workshop on the Brown Act as it applies to the Task Force.
Murial Ullman, Elena Gerli and Lt. Robert Sharpnack of the CMPD each gave reports on current and ongoing actions regarding community outreach and law enforcement.
THE ENFORCEMENT NUMBERS
Costa Mesa intern Bijan Mazarji provided a 3-year law enforcement overview of the Lions Park area, comparing it to the broader community. Lions Park is located in enforcement area #1, which appeared to be basically zip code 92627. While crime is down in that area for the period of the study, calls for service in the Lions Park area is up. In his PowerPoint presentation Mazarji told us that calls for service in the Lions Park and Vicinity have steadily increased since 2008. Some of that is due to the added emphasis by police command to focus more on that area.
In 2010, 96% of the calls for service in Lions Park were attributed to the chronically homeless, up from 76% in 2008.
2008-1010 the cost of service in the Lions Park Vicinity increased from 3% to 4% of Area 1 costs.
Costa Mesa Fire also showed an increase in calls and costs responding to calls for the chronically homeless.
Those costs - using a formula with assumptions about certain elements - indicated that total police and fire costs for responding to issues with chronically homeless was less than $70,000 for 2010.
Karen McGlinn provided a profile of a "homeless person" - a staggering composite of maladjusted, mistreated and just plain unlucky individuals, many of whom she has come into contact with at SOS.
Becks Heyhoe of The Churches Consortium, Russ Carter of Saddleback Church and Phil Eyskens, the new pastor of Lighthouse Church, gave presentations of Faith-based perspectives and combating homelessness. Carter may have summed it up best when he observed that the homeless need an advocate - someone to hear their individual stories who can then help then navigate through the various resources available to them.
I thought it was interesting that sub-committee chairmen Colin McCarthy and Jeff Mathews were no-shows. I suspect McCarthy is much too busy making up polling numbers and throwing red meat to the masses from his perch as President of the Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association to find time to fulfill his responsibilities to the Task Force. According to another member of his sub-committee, they had not even met since the first Task Force meeting a month ago.
The perky Judi Berry did represent Mathews' sub-committee, though, with a report of an un-scientific survey she and her team conducted of businesses around the Lions Park/Westside. It was anecdotal, not fact-based, and, while interesting, Chair Smith pushed back, looking for more information. At that point member Cambria Briggs chimed in with the observation that they didn't really need to "study" the homeless problem - we know there is one or they - the Task Force - wouldn't be there. She suggested spending the time and energy on finding solutions, instead.
GOOD LUCK WITH THAT...
The next meeting is scheduled for May 18th in Conference Room 1A at City Hall. I can tell you that if a third of the people that attended this meeting show up then that conference room will not hold them.
WE KNOW THE PROBLEM
Based on my visit to this meeting and listening to all the interesting testimonies and staff reports, I think Russ Carter and Cambria Briggs may be on the right track. We know we have a "homeless" problem in Costa Mesa. The nature of that problem has been well-chronicled by city staffers and residents, alike. We know that young mothers are afraid to use Lions Park - and probably a few other parks, but those numbers were not available last night. We know all of that. We know each homeless person has an individual story about how they reached this point in their lives and, most likely, it will take an individual, specialized effort to help them out of this situation. We know that.
RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE
We know that there are faith-based resources available to some of the homeless - testimonies last night told of many successes from those organizations. We know that many of the homeless folks need help finding a job so they can afford housing. Some of them need medical and dental care to facilitate their job searches. We know that.
RE-OPEN THE JOB CENTER
Here's my suggestion. I think The City should immediately locate and either lease or buy one of the many vacant buildings in the Westside and re-open the Job Center. The old Job Center served this community well for almost 2 decades and filled a critical need when it was created. Since it was closed the job-seekers have not vanished, they've just gone back to soliciting work at the same old haunts. We need the Job Center back.
CALL IT A "RESOURCE CENTER"
As part of that Job Center - we'd probably call it a "Resource Center" - which was staffed by city employees to the tune of around $100,000 per year, space should be included for an Homeless Advocate's Office - a place where homeless folks could go to get help navigating through the maze of potential resources available to them via social service agencies and faith-based organizations.
NOT A FLOP HOUSE
I am NOT suggesting we create a flop house, where homeless folks could go to get "three hots and a cot". That kind of assistance already exists within the faith-based community. I'm also not suggesting we create a "magnet" for homeless folks. Let's face it - we already ARE a magnet for homeless folks or we wouldn't be having this discussion. The problem now is how to manage this situation.
LET THE FROTHING BEGIN
I recognize that my suggestion will cause many of the readers here to become apoplectic and some of you will rant about it not being the City's job to find work for people. Some quotes form Ebenezer Scrooge come to mind. However, the fact is that the Job Center worked and the additional fact is that we have a very serious problem of homelessness in our city. It is a public safety issue, for the homeless and other residents of our city. By creating this new center, including staffing with an advocate, immediate progress could be made to concentrate the job seekers at a venue where they could be matched with employers looking for casual labor and we would make an immediate impact on the homeless population of our city in a positive way - a good thing for us all.
NOW'S THE TIME, BUDGET-WISE
I know some will screech that we "can't afford" to do what I suggest. Well, we're in the midst of preparing our 2011-2012 municipal budget, so now's the time to think about it seriously. Probable reductions in the cost of calls for service in the Lions Park area alone will make this idea worth considering now. And, since our good friends in Newport Beach already recognize our problem - and since many of the users of the former Job Center were businesses and homeowners from Newport Beach - perhaps they might be willing to participate in some small way in the creation and staffing of the new Resource Center. It can't hurt to ask.
TIME FOR ACTION
We can have the Homeless Task Force continue to meet and study this issue until we know every individual homeless person's story by heart and we can quantify every municipal breath taken and dollar spent addressing the homeless issue, or we can all agree that they've done a good job of helping us focus on this issue, thank them for their fine work and move forward to get something positive done to solve the problem. In my view, the re-constitution of the Job Center as a Resource Center with a Homeless Advocate is the right step.