The organization that already manages and operates the city’s overnight shelter for homeless people in Laguna Canyon is beginning to pursue plans for permanent housing for up to 40 disabled homeless people on the same city-owned land, formerly known as the Verizon property.
“It’s what’s missing,” said Dawn Price, executive director of Laguna Beach’s Friendship Shelter, a residential facility for temporarily displaced individuals that helps them return to independent living. Price recently requested a formal review by city officials of the Friendship Shelter’s concept to convert the entire lot into permanent housing for physically and mentally disabled homeless individuals.
As envisioned, the project would require public funding, likely from federal sources, but a firm location is required before grants applications can be considered, said Price. The Friendship Shelter has contracted with Irvine’s Jamboree Housing, a nonprofit developer specializing in managing lower-priced housing projects.
City Manager John Pietig said the city is reviewing Price’s request to review the concept. “We still have questions and concerns we’re looking into,” he said. “I’m not prepared to delineate what they are.”
To test the city’s receptivity and to build grassroots support for turning the concept into concrete, Price presented her plan for permanent housing on the Verizon lot last month to the city’s Housing and Human Services Committee and the Coordinating Council for Community Services, an umbrella group for Laguna nonprofits involved in social services.
“We’ve looked at a lot of sites in town,” Price said. “Right now, for us, it seems to be the best. It’s not ideal.” A location closer to grocery stores and pharmacies, “…things that people need, especially people with disabilities,” would be better, she said, but pointed out that available land in Laguna is scarce.
“We certainly do see that property as a place where a project like this would work but, of course, that will be the city’s decision,” Price said. “This is one step with one site.” Obtaining funding and starting to build are at least two years away, she said.
Jean Raun, former chair of the League of Women Voters and a participant in the coordinating council, said her group supports the permanent housing concept for the Verizon property.
“We have people who are in terribly hopeless conditions and they’re often people who aren’t able to cope in a rational way with what they’re doing,” said Raun. “It gives them a foundation, they have a place to sleep, there’s somebody there who makes sure they get their medications and they become good citizens.”
Pietig said the application would need his approval or that of the City Council before placing it on the city’s Planning Commission agenda as the first step in the process. Price has yet to hear from the city about the request for permanent housing. She said she will continue to make presentations to get the word out and garner support.
“These things evolve and I want to be honest about that,” Price commented. “We have partners that have yet to weigh in, including the city.”
Price’s conceptual plans for the lot call for an apartment building with 40 efficiency units that include separate kitchenettes. The city purchased the two-acre parcel at 20652 Laguna Canyon Rd. for $670,000 in 2010. City equipment is stored on the unused portion. Price said the plan will reduce costs by incorporating the overnight sleeping shelter, a modular unit the city leases for $22,000 a year.
Price said lease costs comprise 10 percent of the overnight shelter’s $243,000 annual budget and that incorporating it with the permanent housing building will decrease personnel costs because the facility would have on-site, live-in staff.
“The trailers and the temporary buildings would go away,” she added, “which would reduce costs for the city.” A multipurpose room will convert to a sleeping area with floor mats, and meals provided every night since the shelter opened in 2009 will continue. She noted that having a food bank operated by Laguna Relief and Resource Center next door was a definite plus.
“Our statistics show that we have primarily a transient homeless population in addition to about 35 or 40 people with disabilities who are kind of stuck here,” said Price. “One of the main reasons we’re interested in doing this is that frequently it’s a hard thing to find that next step for people who have disabilities and are unable to work and are unable to pay market rent.” Disabled also includes homeless individuals with addictions to toxic substances, she said.
Studies show that stable housing for chronically disabled individuals reduces calls for emergency assistance and reduces the cost of outpatient care, according to reports from the Friendship Shelter.
In Portland, Maine, a city Price said compares to Laguna Beach, a study from 2005 to 2007 of 24 homeless individuals showed a reduction in emergency services after permanent housing, dropping from 97 calls to police to 19 after housing was provided. The cost savings was about $10,000, says the report, entitled “Cost of Homelessness Study: Cost Analysis of Permanent Supportive Housing.”
Federal tax money, including Housing and Urban Development funds as well as grants provided through the Mental Health Services Act are potential funding sources, Price said.
“We can expect we’re going to always have a transient population, we’re a beach community,” Price said. “I would assume the city would want to continue to have an emergency shelter component because they valued that enough to fund it.”