City Contracts with Homeless Shelter Operators


Three nonprofits coordinate efforts to offer overnight services

Laguna Beach this week contracted with three nonprofit organizations to operate a temporary overnight shelter for 50 homeless people at the ACT V parking lot in Laguna Canyon, a pivotal step towards addressing a complicated social dilemma that has divided the town’s residents for more than a year.

Unphased by continued opposition at the meeting from both homeless and housed individuals, the City Council also unanimously agreed to limit use of the shelter to homeless people with verified local connections if conditions become overcrowded. The shelter is expected to open next week and will operate seven days a week until June 15, 2010.

Homeless individuals will be bused to and from the overnight shelter on city buses from the downtown depot on Broadway. The evening bus arrives at the shelter at 6:30 p.m., in time for an evening meal. All individuals spending the night will be required to check in at the shelter by 8 p.m.

The council also added an early morning bus ride back into town from the ACT V parking lot, where municipal vehicles are stored overnight at the city’s corporate yard. Buses leave there at 6:10 a.m. for their first stops at 6:30 a.m. “There should be little or no cost to add this service,” Assistant City Manager Jon Pieetig told the council. “If you get on quickly, you get a ride. If you’re don’t, you miss the bus.”

The morning bus service was requested by leaders of the three nonprofits that will be operating the overnight shelter, Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter; Jason Paransky, board chairman of Laguna Relief and Resource Center; and Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House Living Centers in Santa Ana. The early hour of available transportation, however, complicated the provision of breakfast at the shelter as a way of discouraging meals being offered at Heisler Park and Main Beach.

Paransky said controlling meals offered by others is beyond their scope. “It’s our intention to serve those meals and those sack lunches at ACT V,” he said. “It’s not our intention to serve them at the parks if they don’t get their lunches and their breakfast at ACT V. Somebody else may decide to do that and that’s out of our control.”

Councilwoman Toni Iseman offered the stipulation that only one sack lunch be given to each shelter user to prevent taking extra lunches to homeless friends who did not stay in the shelter.

Mary LaRusso, who’s offered Monday night buffets at Heisler for eight years as a member of the Neighborhood Congregation Church and the Interfaith Council of Churches in Laguna, was hired by the Friendship Shelter last week to cover two shifts as site supervisor at the ACT V shelter.

Giving up her park “picnic with 30 of my best friends,” a meal program started by the late Mary Graves 15 years ago, isn’t going to be a picnic, La Russo said. “I think it’s the city’s wish that we wouldn’t have meals in the park,” she said, sighing heavily. “We’re trying to be cooperative and do what’s best for the homeless population by making it attractive. By having meals out there, maybe that will make it more attractive.” LaRusso said she will still voluntarily supply a meal for homeless people on Monday nights, but now at the ACT V site.

Under the eight-month contract, the city will pay $16,662 monthly, including a $5,000 budget for incidental expenses, totaling $138,296. The contract also calls for the city to pay for water, electricity, sewer service and one phone line, reserving the right to regulate the use of these utilities. The $800-a-month additional expenditure brings the total eight-month budget for the shelter to $144,696.

The Friendship Shelter, which operates a stipulated program for people transitioning from homelessness to rent-paying and employed, will receive the bulk of the budget, $15,000 a month. “The Friendship Shelter will be paying payroll and supplies,” explained Price. The Friendship Shelter is providing site supervisors at the overnight shelter with six hired so far to cover 182 hours a week, she said. Dareon Keetch from the Friendship Shelter will head up the team.


Mercy House will receive $1,000 a month to oversee the operations and offer direction from its experience of running two overnight shelters at the armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton. Laguna Relief and Resource Center will receive $500 a month to cover costs of providing showers and laundry facilities for individuals using the shelter.



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