Laguna Beach homeless count sees steep drop

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Laguna Beach High School students deliver food to the homeless at Main Beach Park. File Photo

By Megan Miller, Special to the Independent

Recent numbers from the County and a local nonprofit show Laguna Beach has made headway in reducing and housing its homeless population.

The latest Point in Time Count released by the county, which surveyed sheltered and unsheltered individuals in a three-day span, shows the number of unhoused persons in the City declined by about 60% in the last two years from 71 to 28. The local nonprofit Friendship Shelter also reported significant progress toward its goal of putting Emergency Housing Vouchers in the hands of 100 individuals.

“Reducing homelessness in our community is a priority and these numbers demonstrate that hard work and collaborative efforts of our Police Department and our homeless shelter operator, Friendship Shelter, have made a difference,” Mayor Sue Kempf said in a press release.

For over 30 years, Friendship Shelter has helped about 10,000 men and women who experienced homelessness find access to housing and other resources. A celebratory bell rings in the office for every person housed, Executive Director Dawn Price said.

In the fall, the nonprofit planned to find housing for 100 unsheltered persons using the Emergency Housing Vouchers issued under the American Rescue Plan Act. The vouchers had originally been slated to expire in June but federal officials decided to extend the program to Dec. 31.

As of Wednesday, Friendship Shelter has issued 87 vouchers, Price said.

Of those, 47 have been “leased up,” meaning an apartment has successfully been identified and leased. The remaining 40 are working closely with housing locators to find units.

“We have a team of housing locators going all over South Orange County looking for these affordable units that fit within the parameters of the funding source so that we can find people places to live and start their lives over,” Price said, adding, “We really need willing landlords.”

The organization has already identified additional clients. With the deadline to distribute vouchers extended to Sept. 30, Price anticipates the organization will exceed their 100-person goal.

Friendship Shelter also aims to raise $7,000 for each of the 100 individuals. So far, the organization has raised $678,316 of their goal to support apartment searches, purchasing the necessary appliances and furniture, and moving in.

The organization is also paying twice the rent up front to ease landlord worries.

“We’re moving along – Orange County is moving along – in leasing these up, and the two biggest challenges by far are finding willing landlords, and locating the housing and affording the extra costs associated with helping the person find those units and get their stuff,” Price said.

Overall, Orange County experienced a 16.6% decline in people experiencing homelessness in the last two years, against the backdrop of soaring rent prices and a global pandemic.

The County received 557 total vouchers, and 151 have resulted in active leases, according to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

Once leased, the subsidized housing continues for as long as the tenant qualifies based on their income.

Councilmember Peter Blake praised Laguna Beach police efforts to connect unsheltered individuals on the streets to resources.

“No single public entity can solve the issues associated with homelessness, especially at the local level,” Blake said in the press release. “It will be a collective effort between both the County of Orange and all Orange County cities that will end homelessness in our communities.”

Laguna Beach was one of the first cities in the county to designate a community outreach officer, and the City currently has two who work closely with Friendship Shelter to address quality of life issues.

“While we still have significant work to be done, this data is encouraging that we are making strides in the right direction,” Kempf said.

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