I’ve been teaching a weekly meditation/wellness class at Friendship Shelter for four years. My experience with the homeless started when we bought our first house on High Drive, which needed repairs. Contractors were getting hassled by the homeless people who had taken up residence inside. Police came out to explain to me what I (and they) couldn’t do, except to tell the homeless folks to leave each time they show up again. This was a very demoralizing situation for a first time homeowner. My new neighbor, Mark Christy, came with me the next few mornings to ensure a peaceful resolution. That property’s backyard cottage was also used by homeless people until we got a pair of noisy retrievers. When you experience this on your property, your safety is threatened.
When Christy was speaking at the microphone at the City Council meeting about being threatened in his backyard by a homeless person or about the hassles his Hobie employees face on lunch breaks, I was reminded again: we have a public safety issue that needs attention now. Not after a low-income housing project is built.
Who was missing at that City Council meeting? Law enforcement. We heard statistics about a reduction in police calls since the ASL has been built. But we (residents, business people, tourists) have a problem today with encounters on the street with some homeless people. This is not a criticism of the fine work Officer Jason Farris has done with the homeless people here. It’s a statement that our collective safety needs are not being met and more law enforcement resources need to be allocated towards fixing this problem.
In my opinion, the City Council needs to exercise its due diligence and engage the police department now to find out what it would take to make this situation better. I would feel more comfortable about this project if the City Council and police department step up with a proactive plan about how they will be helping us with the public safety and nuisance problem we already have. A new housing project will bring more homeless people to the area, just like the ASL did. This is not a situation to play catch-up with.
Michael Farley, MD, Laguna Beach