Cities throughout Orange County are struggling to deal with homeless people setting up encampments in public areas while trying to get more shelter beds and people into housing.
And every city is dealing with a worsening housing shortage.
Now, Newport Beach City Council Members are moving forward with an ordinance to crack down on street encampments following complaints from residents.
The city is also adding five more beds to its homeless shelter.
On Tuesday, council members unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance prohibiting people from camping on public property when shelter beds are available.
The ordinance also forbids people from sitting, sleeping or storing property that blocks access to businesses, schools and other facilities.
The new law would also prohibit sleeping in public restrooms and using public water fountains, restroom sinks and sprinklers to clean clothes, dishes or bathe.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Noah Blom said efforts to address homelessness in the coastal city have been going on for a long time.
“We have the same frustrations that everyone that’s in the audience does,” he told residents. “And our goal right now is to find the best, most proactive way to help those that are out there while ensuring the quality of life that we’re all looking for.”
They also voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance establishing the city’s approach to addressing homelessness aimed at getting people off the streets with help from city funded services from Be Well OC and City Net, increasing shelter space and enforcing laws.
It comes five years after the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa – along with the county – were taken to federal court in 2018 for criminalizing sleeping on the streets, but not providing homeless people with an alternative place to go.
That lawsuit, which roped in nearly every Orange County city, forced the creation of Costa Mesa’s shared homeless shelter with Newport Beach.
Efforts to curb street camping have been seen throughout Orange County in recent years.
Last year in Stanton, City Councilman Gary Taylor called on his colleagues to consider ways to enforce their anti-camping ordinance.
Huntington Beach officials earlier this year discussed enforcing their anti-camping ordinance while pushing people to their shelter.
In February, Surf City officials moved forward with banning people from sleeping, bathing or camping in public restrooms and aimed at stopping people from loitering in parking structures.
Newport Beach Councilwoman Lauren Kleiman said the ordinances are aimed at protecting homeless people from the perils they face living on the streets and part of a multifaceted approach to addressing the issue.
“In no way are we trying to shirk our responsibility to provide assistance as evidenced by the procurement of additional shelter beds, and our partnerships with Be Well, City Net and Costa Mesa,” she said.
Kleiman added that it was aimed at restoring order and safety for residents and businesses as well as providing police the tools needed to protect the community.
Helen Cameron, a former community outreach director with Jamboree Housing who identified herself as a city homeless task force member, called the anti-camping ordinance heavy handed and that not everyone on the street is suited for a shelter.
“We’re very aware that the population on our streets are aging. A shelter is unfortunately not a viable option for many aging people. Often it’s a bunk bed, and somebody who’s in their 70s and 80s is unable to be sheltered there,” she said.
“We need to look at different options for different folks.”
Advocates have routinely said the homelessness crisis has been exacerbated by a lack of affordable homes in OC and that building more homes – especially aimed at low-income residents – is a cornerstone to the solution.
They also contend that shelters are temporary solutions intended to transition homeless people off the streets into housing, but Orange County lacks that type of transitional housing.
Most residents who spoke during Tuesday’s public comment applauded the ordinance, saying it would give law enforcement the tools needed to keep sidewalks and entrances clear and people, especially children, safe while helping get homeless people off the streets.
Some people expressed concern over drug use and sales on the boardwalk, public urination and defecation and one resident even raised concerns of dead bodies being found.
Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s department released a report that showed close to 400 homeless people died in 2021.
According to that report, 16 people died living on the streets in Newport Beach.
The county’s 2022 point in time count shows that there were 96 homeless people in Newport Beach last year and all of them were unsheltered.
Councilwoman Robyn Grant said the city wants to do its own count of the homeless residents in Newport Beach and collect data to ensure they’re effectively tackling the problem.
On Tuesday, officials also unanimously voted to add five more beds to their shared homeless shelter with Costa Mesa at an annual cost of $275,000 and one-time fee of $50,000 for furniture and fixtures.
The increase will mean Newport Beach’s shelter bed capacity will go from 20 to 25 at a time when beds are full most nights, along with a waiting list for people to use the shelter.
There will also be an option to use five of Costa Mesa’s beds if they are available for a daily fee.
Grant said the move is essential to moving the needle on homelessness – the number one issue for residents.
She also called for the city to have greater say in how resources are expended in the shared shelter in order to move people to more permanent solutions like housing.
“We can’t just continuously expand shelter beds, we have to make a connection between getting into the shelter, which is a very hard piece, and then moving from the shelter to permanent supportive housing.”
Hosam Elattar 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 @ElattarHosam.
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