Newport Beach City Council members are looking to crack down on homeless encampments while increasing their shelter bed capacity from 20 to 25 as part of an effort to get people off the street.

Tonight, city officials are expected to vote on an ordinance that would prohibit people from camping on public property without permission when shelter beds are available.

If adopted, it would also ban building unpermitted physical living structures – like makeshift tents – regardless of shelter availability.

City Councilman Will O’Neill said in a Monday phone interview that the crackdown on encampments is part of a holistic approach to address homelessness along with contracted mental health services from Be Well OC and social services from City Net.

“Our priority is to get people up and off the streets, because there’s just no compassion, leaving people on the street,” he said, adding that they’re looking to increase the number of beds at their shelter which has a waitlist.

Advocates have routinely said the homelessness crisis has been exacerbated by a lack of production of affordable homes in OC and that building more homes is a cornerstone solution to the problem.

They also contend that shelters are temporary solutions intended to transition homeless people off the streets into housing.

The creation of the shelter Costa Mesa shared with Newport is a result of a lawsuit filed against the County of Orange, and the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa in 2018 over the removal of homeless people from the Santa Ana riverbed

Brooke Weitzman, co-founder and directing attorney of the Elder Law Disability Rights Center and an attorney in the riverbed lawsuit, said in a Monday text message that while she hasn’t looked at the proposed ordinance it could open them up to a lawsuit.

“At this time, the city does not have adequate housing. 25 shelter beds doesn’t change that. It is likely that any new increased attempt to enforce that type of ordinance would be unconstitutional,” she wrote.

Officials in Sacramento are upping the pressure on cities across California to address the housing unaffordability crisis by forcing them to zone for more housing, including low income homes.

A single-person household making less than $80,000 a year in Orange County is considered low income, according to income limits from the state Housing and Community Development Department. 

[Read: You’d Be Surprised How Many Local Government Workers May Qualify for Subsidized Housing in OC]

O’Neill said the city is in the preliminary stages of partnering with Costa Mesa on a permanent supportive housing development. The project would convert a Travelodge on the border of the city into 76 affordable homes.

“Our biggest problem in getting folks out of the shelter is sometimes housing availability. And so if we can help with that, then we’ll be better off,” he said.

Meanwhile, people are dying on the streets in Orange County.

Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s department released a report that showed close to 400 homeless people died in 2021.

[Read: Does Orange County Need Another Homeless Survey? Report Shows Increase in Deaths]

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.

The ordinance in Newport will also prohibit sitting, sleeping or storing personal property in areas that block access to cancer treatment centers, schools, businesses, fire stations, and public bathrooms.

And it would prohibit sleeping in public bathrooms as well as using public water fountains, restroom sinks and sprinklers to clean clothes, dishes or bathe.

The ordinance comes following complaints from residents and business owners of people blocking the right of way and access to their storefronts as well as safety concerns from police, according to a city staff report.

City council members are also expected to vote on an ordinance establishing the city’s approach to addressing homelessness.

It aims to focus on getting people off the street by acquiring more shelter beds, directing homeless people to services, but also to enforce laws in a “fair and equitable manner” whether a person is homeless or not.

The city hopes to track its progress by doing an annual homeless count.

While officials look to crack down on encampments, they are already looking to add more beds to their shelter.

Last week, Costa Mesa City Council voted to increase the capacity of their shared 72-bed shelter with Newport Beach by 16 beds – 11 for Costa Mesa and 5 for Newport Beach.

Newport Beach officials are expected to vote on that change tonight, paying about $275,000 annually for the five extra beds as well as a one time fee of $50,000 for additional beds and furniture.

With the change, Newport Beach may use five of Costa Mesa’s new beds when not used by the city at a $155 daily fee.

The bed capacity increase comes as officials in both cities say beds in the shelter are full most nights with a waiting list of people trying to get in the shelter.

O’Neill said if Costa Mesa had more beds available the city would be open to discussing increasing their bed capacity even further.

“Right now, they’ve offered five, and we’re looking forward to taking them up on it,” he said.

Costa Mesa City Councilman Manuel Chavez said at a council meeting last week that adding more beds can help the city enforce its anti-camping laws. 

“Having more beds not only helps those in need, but also gives us an opportunity to ensure that the moms in my district can walk the neighborhoods without fear of someone encroaching on the public right of way,” he said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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