By Cari Hachmann
San Clemente residents had the chance to ask a panel of city officials and nonprofit leaders questions on the topic of homelessness during a Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, June 13.
More than 160 people showed up for the meeting, organized by members of the city’s Human Affairs Committee and facilitated by Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane and Councilmember Laura Ferguson.
Panelists included Elizabeth Andrade, chief operations director at Mercy House; Mary Perdue, executive director of Family Assistance Ministries; Pastor Brenda Bos of Christ Lutheran Church; Gina Scott, interim executive of Orange County’s HomeAid; Lt. Ed Manhart, San Clemente’s Chief of Police Services; and City Attorney Scott Smith.
Bane expressed that the “homeless crisis” reaches far beyond San Clemente. The idea of the Town Hall, he said, was to start a dialogue as a community about what can be done to find a long-term sustainable fix to the crisis.
“As residents of Orange County, we need to call for broader action,” Bane said.
About 25 to 30 homeless people are currently camping at the city’s Pico lot, which the city official said is not full and still has “a great deal of capacity left.”
Bane said the city’s May 21 ordinance doesn’t prohibit homeless people from walking around or sleeping outside on public property in the city. “There’s no laws that we can enact that can prohibit a person from walking freely around the city, just like you or I. There’s certain civil rights that they have. What we did do, and what we can do, is designate an area in the city where camping is allowed,” he said.
According to the mayor pro tem, county and nonprofit social workers are working to place people from the campsite into permanent supportive housing and other housing solutions. While there is private security at the site 24 hours a day, campers are not locked inside the “public park” and may come and go as they please.
“We’ve noticed that the calls related to homeless issues in San Clemente have dropped significantly since we put the lot at Pico,” Bane said. Part of the reason is the homeless are out of direct eye of the public.
The city stands by its assertion that the Pico lot is a temporary solution. “The next step is a homeless shelter,” said Bane.
As result of lawsuit settlements in north Orange County, 13 cities are working on a regional shelter in the North Orange County Service Planning Area (“North SPA”), and Costa Mesa, Tustin, Anaheim and Santa Ana are also planning for shelters.
While San Clemente remains in litigation with homeless advocacy groups, the city is looking at shelter options for its SB2 zone, an area designated for homeless shelters in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park. The city has reported on options that would mimic Costa Mesa and Tustin shelters, and range in cost from $1.7 million to $2.2 million.
“Also, we want to start a dialogue with our neighbors in San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point, and elsewhere in Aliso Viejo about a regional shelter much like the model that’s being used up in North County,” said Bane. “We’ve started those dialogues . . . and we are trying to move those discussions along as fast as we can.” The city is also in continuing talks with the county.
View the rest of the meeting online through the city’s website or on YouTube.
Lt. Ed Manhart, San Clemente’s police chief, spoke and asked people to report violations they see to the police (instead of on social media), so that deputies can respond promptly.
Councilmember Laura Ferguson said several people have expressed interest in forming a task force on homelessness, which the city hopes to formalize at its next meeting. The Human Affairs Committee, made up of seven volunteers, plans to continue hosting workshops on various related topics.
“This is a long-term effort for us. . . . We hope you will stay engaged,” said Ferguson. “We need all hands on deck to address this issue.”