SUPPORT THIS INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
The article you’re about to read is from our reporters doing their important work — investigating, researching, and writing their stories. We want to provide informative and inspirational stories that connect you to the people, issues and opportunities within our community. Journalism requires lots of resources. Today, our business model has been interrupted by the pandemic; the vast majority of our advertisers’ businesses have been impacted. That’s why the SC Times is now turning to you for financial support. Learn more about our new Insider’s program here. Thank you.
By Chris Duncan
If you have been to Los Angeles recently, you have noticed the tent cities popping up seemingly everywhere. You may have also heard about the ordered removal of the encampment at Venice Beach.
Closer to home, residents have recently noticed new homeless campsites by our beaches, and a few weeks ago, Caltrans announced an order to evict homeless residents at the Cristianitos off-ramp.
We are not like L.A. and we never will be, at least on my watch. But we can no longer look the other way on the housing and homelessness crisis in San Clemente. We must act now.
First, we need regional emergency housing in order for people to get off the streets and out of danger. The county is responsible for funding homeless shelters, but despite having access to substantial state and federal funds, as well as ample discretionary funds, it has shirked this duty in South OC. No more.
I will lead a contingent of South OC cities to demand the county fulfill its obligation to shelter South OC homeless residents. An elderly, disabled longtime resident of our town died on our streets several months ago. We must never let this happen again.
Second, we must work with local motels and with the county to convert motels and under-utilized commercial property to additional permanently affordable housing for our residents who are low-income and disabled.
Cycling disabled people through large congregate temporary shelters or jails only perpetuates the problem. Homeless people often suffer from physical disabilities, a myriad of medical problems and/or mental illness, including substance use disorder.
Many need full-time services to assist them in dealing with these issues, and to help them stay housed and thrive in the community. Truth be told, I advocated against PSH in San Clemente during the last campaign, but I have come to understand that additional supportive housing is the only way to help some disabled homeless residents from ending up back on the street.
We have seen from Project Room Key that simply housing people without adequate supportive services, and most importantly, without permanent housing options on the other side, does not work. We must have more permanent housing with accessible, full-time services for those who need it.
Finally, we must enforce our anti-camping ordinance. Under the Martin v. Boise decision, cities can only enforce these laws if they have bed space to offer. The first two prongs meet this standard, allowing for our sheriff’s deputies to keep people from camping or living in public areas.
If people break the law and refuse to accept appropriate offers of emergency shelter in the community, law enforcement can and should act. That being said, mental health clinicians, not armed police, should be the first point of contact with people who are homeless and in need of services.
This helps our OCSD deputies by allowing them to focus on enforcing the law, not acting as social workers. We must insist the county fully fund the mental health provider aspect of OCSD’s new Behavioral Health Bureau so that mental health clinicians are available at all times.
We all know what will happen if we do nothing; people will continue to live on the streets and sidewalks of San Clemente, and it will only get worse. This includes homeless residents in South San Clemente who will soon be evicted by Caltrans and have nowhere else to go.
Please support my plan to finally end homelessness in San Clemente and live up to Ole Hanson’s vision for our safe, clean, and healthy Spanish Village by the Sea.
Chris Duncan is a councilmember who was elected in 2020.