By Marshall Ininns
Several misconceptions about Friendship Shelter’s proposed permanent supportive housing apartments have made their way in to public statements and news coverage recently. It’s important that we remember the facts:
The Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) emergency shelter: There seem to be many misconceptions about the current program at the ASL on Laguna Canyon Road and how it is operated. Friendship Shelter operates the ASL on behalf of the city of Laguna Beach under a contract with the city. The ASL was established in November 2009 and placed in the canyon by the city at that time. It provides basic food, shelter and minimal services like showers and laundry to homeless people with a preference toward serving those with ties to our local community. By establishing and supporting the ASL emergency shelter, the city ensures that there is a place for homeless and transient people to sleep safely while keeping them out of our parks and off our beaches.
Our proposal: We are proposing a permanent structure that houses both a reduced-size emergency shelter as well as 40 efficiency style apartments (plus manager’s unit). These apartments will become permanent housing for disabled, formerly homeless people who need services available to them on-site, around the clock, in order to stay housed. The shelter will remain to provide intermittent emergency shelter for transient people who find themselves in our city so that they are not sleeping in our parks or on our beaches, and so that we can provide assistance to them in accessing services they may need to move beyond their homelessness.
Shelter versus Housing: People refer too often to the “proposed shelter,” a “bigger shelter” or to opposing “a shelter in the canyon.” It’s important to remember that the city located the ASL Emergency Shelter in Laguna Canyon from the beginning, in November 2009, first at the ACT V parking lot and later, in May 2010, to its present location next to the dog park. Since November 2009, we have had a homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon that regularly provides shelter, meals, showers and laundry services for 45 people nightly. There is nothing new about the shelter in the canyon. What’s new is our proposal for a smaller shelter (35 people) and permanent housing for 40 formerly homeless people. As the 25 people who went on our bus tour of similar housing developments learned, housing is dramatically different from shelter. Formerly homeless people living in housing do not look like, behave like, or resemble in any way people who continue to live on the streets. This is not an expanded shelter — it’s a solution for 40 of our most vulnerable homeless neighbors and a smaller shelter for transient homeless who will continue to move through our community.
Growing Homeless Numbers: Despite strong evidence disproving growth in our local homeless population, we see repeated references to “growing” numbers of homeless people. ASL statistics show that the number of homeless people in our community has not grown. In fact, demand for ASL services is lower than it was four years ago. This persistent but inaccurate belief is understandable because we do have a transient population of homeless people that continually moves through our town. There are always new faces, but each new face is not a “plus one” in our homeless numbers. Just as new transient homeless people arrive in our community regularly, so do transient homeless people leave our community and move on. The faces may change, but the numbers remain constant, and have done so for more than five years.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center Implications: While our organization has repeatedly pledged to work with PMMC to address its understandable concerns and to ensure that no licensure or grant funding is lost as a result of our development, rumors persist that our housing proposal will cause PMMC to lose funding. We have pledged to ensure that is not so.
Tolerating Laziness in Otherwise Capable People: Our proposal is for people with permanent, persistent disabilities who cannot live independently without on-site support. We are not talking about a “lounging” place for people who are capable of working and paying for housing. We are talking about people with disabilities who will continue to live on our streets without our help. They cannot work. They cannot help themselves without support.
As we continue this public conversation, and especially as we move in to an election season, let’s have a vigorous debate — but let’s do it based on facts, not myth and not rumor. This is an educated, thoughtful community and we deserve a fact-based review of this proposal.
Marshall Ininns is a Laguna Beach-based architect and president of the Friendship Shelter board.