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Supervision at Homeless Shelter Shifts

Meals at the shelter are provided by volunteers and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.

The Laguna Resource Center relinquished its contract to supervise daytime activities at the shelter for homeless people during Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, which shifted supervisory responsibilities for the shelter entirely to another local nonprofit.

The Resource Center’s staff manned the shelter from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow overnighters time to eat meals, shower and do laundry and was paid $500 a month by the city for the service. The Resource Center also provided a van driver for daily transportation to and from the shelter, which opened at its current location north of the Laguna Canyon dog park in June. Its contract expires on Oct. 15.

Another shelter in the city for homeless people, the privately funded Friendship Shelter, receives $182,000 a year to provide overnight supervision at the canyon shelter from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. weeknights and from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends, according to the city contract.  It will now oversee morning activities at the shelter until 10 a.m. daily, adding two hours to its duty but effectively reducing the shelter’s hours of operation.

“If we had continued running the daytime facility, we wouldn’t have been able to provide other services to the community, such as the food bank and medical vouchers and meals to the homeless and casework for homeless and low-income families,” said Andy Siegenfeld, chairman of the Laguna Relief and Resource Coalition, which is largely supported by fundraising. Ultimately, Siegenfeld said, the resource center could no longer afford to provide services under the terms of the current contract.

The center paid $2,000 a month to lease the new 3,600-square-foot modular unit housing the homeless as well as a nearby 1,200-square-foot building that provides donated food and clothing for people in distress due to homelessness, financial need or natural disaster.  Although provisions are greatly depleted, the center will continue to operate the food and clothing bank, said Siegenfeld.

On a monthly basis, the city agreed to pay $16,662 to split between three service providers managing the shelter.  The resource center received $500 a month.  Mercy House in Santa Ana receives $1,000 as consultant to the program and Friendship Shelter receives the remaining $15,162 as administrator of the program and overnight operator, providing paid personnel and coordinating all services and activities.

“Even though it appears that the Friendship Shelter’s getting paid where the Resource Center wasn’t,” explained City Manger John Pietig, “the original deal was structured to help the Resource Center out and lower their costs and actually give them access to better facilities at the ASL (alternative sleeping location).  We made it easier, better and cheaper for them to do what they were already doing.”

Not far from its current location, the Resource Center operated out of a house, paying $3,000 a month in rent plus utilities and offered showers, laundry and meals to homeless individuals. Those services were still more than a mile from the city’s first homeless shelter, which was opened in the ACT V parking lot on Laguna Canyon Road in late 2009.

At that time, the Friendship Shelter was the only supervisor at the original shelter, which was only open for evening meals and sleeping, and was already receiving $182,000 a year to oversee those nighttime activities.  The current contract with the city was predicated on how the two service providers, Friendship Shelter and the Resource Center, were then conducting business.

The Resource Center was receiving a continuing community assistance grant from the city of $19,500, which will be transferred to the Friendship Shelter to fund its extra hours, as well as $3,000 a year  from the parking meters for the homeless, which will also be transferred to the Friendship Shelter, said Peitig.  “So there’s $22,000 that the Resource Center was getting paid by the city,” he said.

Because the Resource Center wasn’t sure if it could meet its monthly house rent, the city offered more space at less rent to offer the same services at the new and bigger shelter, said Pietig.  “We structured the deal to save them about $1,000 a month,” he said.  “This whole package was intended to save them money and to give them the opportunity to continue the work they were doing.”

Van transportation between the shelter and downtown will continue for another year at a cost of $25,000 while the city seeks future funding sources.  The van expense will be paid with allocated money left over from the shelter’s move from the ACT V lot to its current location at 20652 Laguna Canyon Rd.  The city will forfeit $11,280 in lost lease revenue from the Resource Center.

During the term of its lease, the Resource Center underwrote $65,000 in additional shelter amenities, such as a second restroom, showers, a kitchen, an office and an outside storage shed, that were not offered at the city’s original shelter at ACT V. “After they invested the $65,000, the facility was theirs to use as much as they could to help the homeless, which is what they wanted to do,” added Pietig.  “The $65,000 was a wonderful investment by the Resource Center.”

The city originally opened the “alternative sleeping location” at the ACT V parking lot in Laguna Canyon to settle an ACLU lawsuit. The ACT V shelter was opened after a full summer of homeless people gathering in makeshift tents and on tattered bedrolls and sleeping in full view of tourists, merchants and residents, who lodged numerous and vociferous complaints.

The shelter holds a maximum of 45 overnight residents. Overflow of up to 25 additional people per night camp outside the shelter, according to a shelter spokesperson. Police regularly warn and cite people for illegal lodging. Friendship Shelter supervisors enforce the rule that no one sleeps in the shelter’s courtyard, according to Mark Miller, the Friendship Shelter executive who supervises the city’s shelter operation.

“I don’t look in the fields and I don’t look in the cul-de-sacs so I have no idea if people are sleeping there,” he said.

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