A newly seated Huntington Beach City Council took a look at the city’s homeless plan last week and is pushing forward with new enforcement plans.

Last Tuesday’s discussion was the first time since the new majority took office that they’ve discussed policy for the homelessness crisis after making a pledge in their campaigns to implement a 90-day homeless plan to clean up the streets. 

[Read: Republicans on Track to Retake Huntington Beach City Council]

So far, that majority’s plan appears to be enforcing anti-camping laws and pushing homeless people toward the Navigation Center, the city’s homeless shelter – or out of Surf City altogether. 

“What we asked for has a very strong focus on enforcement, there’s a reason for that. Success is not just about helping a homeless person, it’s about helping the rest of the residents,” Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark said at the meeting. “We need to control the homeless situation.” 

The majority’s largest critic on the issue was Councilwoman Natalie Moser, who repeatedly questioned what good the council’s new approach would do, comparing the solution to the legs of a stool. 

“(Enforcement) only addresses one leg of the stool. If we only have one leg of the stool, we have a failed stool,” Moser said. “That success will get us sued.” 

The precise details on the new plan are still being worked out, but residents got their first glimpse of the proposal in a presentation from Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra and officer Brian Smith, where they asked for over $200,000 in overtime pay, four additional officers in the homelessness task force and three new police trucks.

The requests from the police chief would total over $1.2 million.

The city’s Navigation Center opened in December 2020 and can house up to 174 people at a time.

Coucilmember Pat Burns said the goal is to eventually close the homeless shelter and see less homeless people in Huntington Beach as a whole.

“To be honest with you, ultimately, success is closing that Navigation Center, minimal people in the beds, et cetera,” Burns said at the meeting. “That’s what I would like to see. Less on the streets, less in the tents, less in Huntington Beach. That would be success.”

Burns didn’t spell out any plans on how that could be done.

In 2021, the Navigation Center served 277 different people and helped 45 people find housing.

Moser emphasized the importance of solutions that include housing and that moving people around doesn’t solve the housing crisis.

“If we had no homeless people in our community, we would have the ability to no longer have a shelter,” Moser said. “I would prefer not to have a congregate shelter. I’d prefer to have people living under roofs and in housing. But that’s not the situation that we’re living in, and we need to deal in reality for right now.”

Moser also pressed the police chief on what difference enforcement makes for the homeless population. 

“Does enforcing our anti-camping laws decrease homelessness?” Moser asked. 

“If we place them in the Navigation Center then that person is not on the street,” the chief said. 

“Is the result always to go to the Navigation Center?” Moser followed up. 

The chief’s answer was brief.

“No.” 

The divided council agreed that the topic needed further discussion, and the item will return on a future agenda either in late February or early March as a study session.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and a corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada. 

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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