San Clemente leaders are mobilizing to push homeless encampments off of city beaches.
At the same time, there’s a strong message from city leaders that there are zero plans for any kind of local shelters for homeless people.
City council members publicly directed city staff earlier this month to speak with the county about setting up a homeless shelter somewhere in south county, but made it clear that it wouldn’t be coming to the Spanish Village by the Sea.
“We will not build a homeless shelter,” said Councilman Gene James at the council meeting. “We will not build a temporary shelter, we will not build a weather related shelter. No shelters.”
San Clemente city staff suggested setting up a program to connect homeless residents with rain gear, warm clothing, food and potentially rooms in a motel for extreme crises that would run only when weather dropped below 40 degrees, or 50 degrees with rain.
Orange County has had more homeless people die than ever in recent years, according to a recent county study on homeless deaths.
[Read: Does Orange County Need Another Homeless Survey? Report Shows Increase in Deaths]
There’s been federal lawsuits around the lack of public sector response to homelessness in Orange County that for a time halted such city actions. But it seems there’s little progress on public sheltering.
And in San Clemente, officials say they aren’t waiting around while homeless encampments keep appearing on local beaches.
That’s prompting a local discussion to create a system that can offer basic help but not much more amidst a fear the city’s locale and weather will encourage more to come.
“We’re talking about basic things for keeping people healthy,” said city manager Andy Hall in his report. “It’s in our own humanity to try to take care of people, especially in those times of inclement weather.”
While there was never an exact cost presented for the program, staff said it would be a maximum of $50,000.
Hall also brought up the possibility of hiring a security company to make sure homeless residents stayed off the beaches overnight, saying it could be dangerous and that staff have seen problems with homeless people violating smoking and drinking rules.
While the entire city council approved hiring the extra beach security, not everyone could get behind offering extra resources in cold weather, bringing up concerns that it wasn’t their responsibility and would turn the city into a tourist destination for homeless people throughout the county.
“I do not want to go down the slippery slope of our local government taking responsibility for what should be a federal and a state and a regional responsibility,” said Councilman Victor Cabral. “It’s the taxpayers that support this city that we have a bigger responsibility to.”
James called the homeless living along the beach “rabble,” and said the council needed to protect the children.
“We don’t want to become the manure pit that Democratic cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego have become,” James said. “You even see it here in Orange County. I won’t name the cities, but you know what these cities are.”
“They’re disorderly people acting in an uncouth and uncivilized manner, and by God we need to take our beach back.”
Mayor Chris Duncan said that regardless of people’s housing, the city shouldn’t be allowing people to die due to the weather.
“We don’t stand for that, no matter who that person is. We don’t let people die or get hurt on our streets. It’s right in our mission statement,” Duncan said. “Last year, we had a lifelong San Clementian who died, right outside the senior center. We want to make sure that never happens again.”
Councilman Mark Enmeier said while they could hold out hope for a county shelter, he wasn’t expecting one in the near future.
“I just don’t think it’s realistic,” Enmeier said. “The county is looking at the south region and saying ‘hey, we want to build something, but which city is going to let us build it?’ and no city is going to do this.”
“We can’t move them out unless we have a shelter to send them to. That’s the law.”
The vast majority of residents who came out at the meeting were against any sort of new shelter, encouraging churches and family members of the homeless to deal with the issue instead.
“Yes, we need to care for people, but we don’t need to make it where people get dropped off here or want to come here,” said one San Clemente resident.
Cabral also argued the city already had programs for the homeless, and that San Clemente residents “are the most generous people I know.”
“We have great programs,” Cabral said. “We do not have people dying on our street because they don’t have a poncho and a health bar.”
“Someone did die,” Enmeier said. “And they died last year.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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