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Homeless Shelter Continues to Evolve

The Alternate Sleeping Location, which nightly houses about 45 homeless people in Laguna Canyon, will remain open during the daytime for a trial period of 10 weeks this summer thanks to a last-minute $30,000 allocation approved by the City Council earlier this month.

After an audit revealed a general fund balance of $3.2 million more than estimated, the City Council approved a mid-year budget revision and approved staff recommendations to make use of the windfall. These included paying the city’s portion to replace a countywide communications system, setting aside savings if FEMA denies reimbursement on three projects, buying equipment and technology replacements, among others. Barring changes, this would still leave $119,500 of the original windfall in the general fund.

Six residents, including two high school students, requested that the council replenish the now depleted fund for complete streets, a state mandate requiring that roads be made accessible for foot and pedal traffic. The council agreed to a $50,000 addition.

Council member Toni Iseman tacked on some changes of her own, requesting funding to extend hours at the shelter. Normally, those taking advantage of overnight shelter leave at 10 a.m. on a city operated van and return the same way at 5 p.m. Iseman cited concerns she discussed with a committee of art festival representatives about visitors waiting for trolleys at the bus depot encountering the van disgorging homeless people from the shelter at 10 a.m.

Iseman also requested funds for the installation of surveillance cameras at key intersections along Coast Highway to the north and south, as well as Laguna Canyon Road and the intersection at El Toro Road, including one camera at the bus depot due to frequent incidents there that have caused some travelers to be fearful. Police Chief Paul Workman estimated the cost of cameras at $90,000 or less.

It remains to be seen whether homeless people will avail themselves of the opportunity to stay at the shelter rather than heading into town each morning.

Friendship Shelter, which manages the shelter under a city contract, received a request from city officials on Tuesday, Feb. 12, for a cost estimate to keep the shelter open in daytime, said Executive Director Dawn Price. At that time, Friendship Shelter had yet to receive a formal request for the planning or execution of a day program, she said.

Consultations with the Friendship Shelter to determine over expanding operations at the homeless shelter are now underway, said Ben Siegel, director of Laguna’s community services department. The matter be taken up again by the City Council in April, he said.

While the volunteer-run Laguna Relief and Resource Center provided some daytime services to the homeless in conjunction with the shelter for nearly two years, subsidized in part with public funds, those services ended in October 2011 when the Resource Center scaled back to its core mission of providing food and clothing to low-income families, disaster relief in emergencies and homeless advocacy.

A lawsuit by the ACLU that argued the city could not cite the homeless for sleeping in public unless they had a viable alternative forced Laguna to establish the shelter initially. The first was set up in a canyon parking lot in November 2009, where it opened at 6:30 p.m. and closed the next morning at 7:30 a.m.

In June 2010 the homeless shelter was moved to its current location at 20652 Laguna Canyon Rd. and the Friendship Shelter contracted for $182,000 a year to provide overnight supervision from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. weeknights and from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends. Hours have since been extended to 10 a.m. on weekdays.

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