Friday, January 17, 2014

Homeless Housing Workshop A Success

Last night Costa Mesa City Council chambers was the site of the Homeless Supportive Housing Workshop - a meeting designed to present information to, and gather opinions from, residents of the City on this issue.  It succeeded.

The auditorium held more than 100 people, eager to hear about the City's plans to provide some kind of Supportive Housing as one piece in the Homelessness puzzle.  The audience was attentive and respectful as City staff, consultants and residents expressed their views.  Unlike City Council meetings, where Mayor Jim Righeimer rules with an iron fist, expressions of support and appreciation - clapping - were not stifled.  It was a nice change.

Assistant Chief Executive Officer Rick Francis kicked things off, then handed the ball to Righeimer, who first apologized to the members in the audience from the local area, indicating that the City dropped the ball by not doing public outreach before announcing that the Civic Center Park might be the venue for a Homeless Housing Project.  He then gave a mini-pep talk and said he would stay in the audience as long as he could before he had to go tend to his daughters.  He did just that.  He stayed through the entire nearly 3-hour long meeting, sitting near the back of the room, watching, listening and tinkering with his phone through the entire event.


Consultant Kathe Head from Keyser Marston Associates, HERE, presented a thorough slide show to the audience and answered spontaneous questions from the audience.  From my vantage point, it appeared that most members of the audience learned some new information.  She explained the formation and goals of the Homeless Task Force, and described the City's multifaceted approach to resolve Homelessness in Costa Mesa within 5 years.

Head cited several studies - none of which were from California - that implied that it costs less to house a homeless person than it does to deal with them on the streets.  She explained "Transitional Housing", and described the benefits to the community of such housing.

She also covered in great detail the five options the City sees available to it:
  • Option #1 - Motel acquisition and conversion
  • Option #2 - New Construction of a Project with 100% of the units provided to homeless tenants
  • Option #3 - New Construction of a 50% homeless and 50% very-low income households project
  • Option #4 - Acquisition and renovation of existing apartment buildings
  • Option #5 - Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program

In the recent past we've been told that there were NO properties available for purchase that might fit numbers 1 and 4.  However, Head told us that there may now be one or two motels "shopping to be sold".  I guess Righeimer's bludgeoning has had some effect.  So, the rule of governance in Costa Mesa appears to be just beat the crap out of someone until they go along or get out.  Nice...

Head, who described herself as a "numbers person" closed her nearly hour-long fast-paced presentation by describing some of the financing options for several of the options.  Eyes glazed over around the room, but many people nodded in agreement as she spoke and some asked pertinent questions.

Then, at 7:15, Francis opened the meeting up to comments, indicating that each speaker would have three minutes - the City Clerk was in the front row timing them.  That led to a parade of more than three dozen speakers, each of whom stepped up and expressed their views.

We heard from several residents of the Monticello development that is contiguous with the Civic Center Park express support both for and against putting Homeless Housing at that site.  Each side made strong presentations of their views and opinions.  We were later told by Francis that the Civic Center Park site is no longer being considered.

We heard from long-time resident, activist and former Daily Pilot columnist Flo Martin about her personal experience being homeless, twice, during her post-World War II life in Europe and Canada.  It was clear that she felt strongly that we simply must DO SOMETHING about this issue.  Her preference was Option #2.  She clearly touched many in the audience with her story.

Long-time community activist Jean Forbath attended and spoke, stating that she was proud of the City for taking these initiatives and thanking the current City Council and the staff for moving forward with this process.

City Council candidate Tony Capitelli, a strong advocate for Homeless Housing, attended with his wife, Julie, and stepped up to briefly address the audience and staff, citing a "sense of urgency" to keep moving on this process.  No, he didn't use this as a campaign stop.

Resident Phil Morello stopped whispering loudly to his knot of Westside cronies long enough to step up and described his background as a long-time Westside activist and suggested that we "get it right" and should consider one of the Eastside motels as a possibility.  He also expressed concerns that HUD housing funds might be used to house illegal aliens - muttering could be heard around the auditorium.

Becks Heyhoe, Director of the Churches Consortium, has been on the leading edge of the battle to resolve Costa Mesa Homelessness and also spoke briefly, thanking all those who attended the workshop for their interest and participation.

One of the last speakers was Russ Carter, a long-time activist on Homelessness issues.  He stepped up and acknowledged he was ready to scold participants for their views, but that he couldn't.  He, also, expressed admiration for the participants in the workshop on both sides of the issue and the process in general.

Just before 9 p.m. Francis wrapped up the meeting by telling the remaining members of the audience - it had thinned considerably to around 60 people in the nearly three hours it took to reach that point - that their comments would be reviewed and archived for the City Council to consider.  The meeting had been taped, probably not for replay, but for archival purposes.  Councilwoman Wendy Leece, literally and figuratively a lame duck - she's hobbling around on a recently-replaced hip and is in the last year of her term - attended most of the meeting and paid close attention to the speaker's views.

It's not clear what the next step will be.  If the Civic Center Park site is out, then I presume the staff may attempt to pursue purchasing a motel site that has begun to weaken their resolve to fight City Hall.  It's funny how passing ordinances aimed directly at one type of business - the Nuisance Ordinance and the Excessive Use of Services Ordinance - plus the waterboarding effect of constant Code Enforcement and Police attention can weaken one's resolve, isn't it?

So, until the Homelessness issue is resolved, you may want do what some speakers suggested - get to know some of the homeless folks in town.  A pastor from the Lighthouse Church - across the street from Lions Park, which has become ground zero in the homeless issue - suggested we do just that.  Heck, apparently one woman has begun giving them housing in her home!

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Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

It is great to hear about the citizens' participation, but your closing comments are chilling. Who will they go after next? Who gets beat up?

1/17/2014 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bruce Krochman said...

As important as it is to address the homeless issue, homelessness knows no city boundaries. It is imperative that our neighboring communities are in synch with Costa Mesa or we will do nothing but create an imbalance in services. Costa Mesa should be coordinating their efforts with Newport and Huntington.

1/17/2014 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

Housing for homeless veterans in Costa Mesa looks to be an all around winner, so it might be politically acceptable where housing for other cohorts might not be.

With vets, there’s not the wired-in suspicion of the “other” that humans naturally feel towards strangers; indeed, there seems to be a built-in affection for those who have given greatly for the good of their country.

There is Federal money to be had to obtain housing for vets through the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs.

The Feds have a goal of eliminating veteran homelessness in the U.S. by 2015, so there will be a lot of political pressure throughout the nation to support the goal.

Some cities have already have reached that goal. Phoenix is the first in the country to end homelessness among vets with long or recurrent histories of living on the streets. In 2011, Phoenix had 222 chronically homeless vets; now they have none. Salt Lake City was able to announce this month that they have now housed all their chronically homeless vets.

Costa Mesa's traditional support for Religion, Sports, Motherhood, and the Flag just might spill over to the Veterans whose service in the military has preserved for us – guess what – Religion, Sports, Motherhood, and the Flag.

There’s a news story at that tells more.

1/18/2014 10:38:00 AM  

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