Letter: What if the Cavalry Isn’t Coming to Help with the Homeless?

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letters to the editorIt is yet another Monday morning where we are all recovering from the frustrating number of incidences of homeless people engaging in unhealthy, unsafe and abusive behavior over the weekend. We look to our police and City Council for help, but in truth, their hands have been tied by Sacramento and our court system. Yes, we have put laws in place that are exacerbating our ability to have a healthy and safe community and they need to change. But if the laws don’t or can’t change, what do we do? Reality is, the cavalry (or city hall) is not going to fix this problem alone and we need to develop more community-based solutions to address the issue.

Saturday morning, Councilman Peter Blake hosted the fourth seminar on homelessness in Laguna Beach at the Suzi Q. It was a thoughtful discussion led by Gina Seriel, the founder of Our Father’s Table (OFT), a faith-based nonprofit organization. Gina spoke on the process they use to help the homeless navigate the 200 agencies in California that deal with the homeless. Today, if you are on the street and want help, it can take 12 weeks to get started. OFT uses “navigators,” all of whom have experienced homelessness, to create personal relationships with the homeless person and to help them help themselves. Their work is based in love and tough love, creating boundaries and expectations. They are there for the homeless person 24/7, 365 days a year, something most of them have never had. They work together to get them into medical detox, then 90-day rehab, mental and physical care, and then transitional housing and employment.

From Gina’s experience (they have done this 143 times), encampments and regional solutions don’t work, and community-based solutions have the highest success rate. Given that it costs taxpayers over $100,000 a year in services for each homeless person and it costs only $12,000 per person to get them through the program, it’s a great return on investment.

Peter’s group was excited about starting a chapter here in Laguna and are looking at next steps. While this will not address all our immediate health and safety concerns, it is a proven way to get people off the streets. That is all any of us want.

There’s more information at www.ourfatherstableus.org.

John Gabbard, Laguna Beach

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