Involve the Homeless as Part of the Solution



At the recent City Council hearing about subsidizing housing for the permanent homeless Mark Christy spoke eloquently about his fears for the community. Dawn Price offered a reasonable case that homeless people will use any scheme or ruse available to them to get out of the rain and cold, including calling emergency services that they cannot be legally denied. In this they are not different than most of us would be if placed in their predicament. Price made it clear, I thought, that the total cost of city services used by the permanent homeless far exceeds the cost of building and maintaining housing for them.

Not only would it be cheaper to house our permanent homeless, Christy’s concerns would also be assuaged to a great degree. Those homeless who cause havoc and public nuisances in town would at least have somewhere off the street to do so. Those 40 or so would, whatever else, have somewhere to relieve themselves and keep themselves clean. No one, not even the mentally ill, wants to be as grubby from sleeping outdoors for weeks at a time. Just as important, they would have shelter from the cold and wet, and somewhere to simply be without ruffling the feathers of downtown retailers.

When this issue is discussed further I suggest that, though the long-term homeless are often afflicted with mental illness, those people nonetheless can understand that they have an important stake in the success of such a project.  Some ways of insuring their continuing shelter from the storms cannot be regulated by building policies or a lease agreement. But resident committees and review boards can be formed. The potential residents can know that the more carefully they maintain and protect a space like subsidized housing, the greater is the likelihood that once it is built it will remain available. This project will not solve the problem of homelessness – nothing will – but for each homeless Laguna individual, it might solve theirs if they will claim ownership of the more general problem and its solution.

Jim Rue, Laguna Beach


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