By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Alternative Sleeping Location serving Laguna Beach’s homeless population will get some security upgrades thanks to a proposal from City Councilman Peter Blake approved Tuesday by the Council.
Beach patrol officers will search guests entering the ASL from 5-9 p.m. daily for alcohol, drugs, and weapons to protect the safe refuge sought by homeless individuals. These non-sworn city employees will also patrol the ASL’s interior, parking lot, and adjacent creek. Laguna Beach will also spend $10,000 to install a metal detector specifically to prevent weapons from being brought into the shelter.
“My concerns are for the most vulnerable people in our community who are staying at the ASL,” Blake said. “One of the complaints that you hear from the homeless is that they are unable to sleep at night because they’re afraid their belongings might be stolen, or they might be potentially raped or assaulted.”
Blake initially asked Chief Laura Farinella about placing a police officer at the ASL on a nightly basis, but that option proved to be too costly, he said. City staffers also studied bringing in a contract security service to guard the ASL and learned that would cost the city $38 per hour. The combination of full-time and part-time beach patrol officers proved more cost effective at $31 per hour with an estimated annual price tag of $45,000.
A survey of Orange County’s homeless shelters by city staffers showed that the ASL was one of only three shelters that didn’t have a security guard. The same survey reported that the vast majority of homeless shelters search guests’ belongings, but not the clothing on their bodies, before they can enter. Blake said he hopes that the beach patrol officers will end “partying” in the ASL’s parking lot that he’s heard about.
“It puts us in a place where our canyon residents are able to sleep better at night knowing that we don’t have people who are tenting, camping, or potentially smoking crack and burning their neighborhoods down,” he said.
Guests carrying weapons such as knives that are legal to carry but aren’t allowed in the shelter will be required to stash them in amnesty boxes overnight before entering the ASL. A police officer will be called to the shelter if any illegal weapons are found.
Mayor Bob Whalen said he supported the security upgrades to the ASL but wanted to hear back from Farinella in six months about the activity seen by beach patrol officers.
“I just want to understand what’s going on, how this is working, and what it’s revealing to us,” Whalen said.
Dawn Price, executive director of Friendship Shelter, which operates the ASL, did not respond to requests for comment.