With homelessness continuing to be an ever-present issue for the town to address, people have numerous varying ideas of how change should come.
No matter the method, the basic desire for many is to see unhoused people leave the streets and to keep the city looking clean and beautiful. That shouldn’t be a political matter, according to Tom Streeter of the San Clemente Homeless Collaborative.
The co-chair, who identifies as a conservative Republican, inherently doesn’t agree with much of what his left-leaning fellow leader Donna Vidrine thinks politically. However, since moving to San Clemente from San Diego 15 years ago and realizing that he needed to occupy his retired years with a worthwhile cause, Streeter found Vidrine’s group two years ago and decided to involve himself.
Vidrine started the Homeless Collaborative in around 2019 as the public entity mirroring the city’s Joint Homeless Subcommittee, which included members of both the Human Affairs and Public Safety Committees.
As the subgroup faded out in 2021, she kept the collaborative going with the addition of faith and nonprofit group leaders to continue some semblance of a group in town that would focus on the issue.
Regarding solutions toward which the Homeless Collaborative wants to direct attention, Streeter said that while San Clemente will likely never reduce the 131 unsheltered persons tallied in the 2022 Point in Time Count, people need to at least be able to sleep somewhere in town.
“During the night, where do we want homeless people to be? Where do we want them not to be?” he explained. “Let’s think through that first.”
On the other hand, Vidrine expressed her desire for much more complex initiatives.
Those include having a designated shelter space within San Clemente, portable, well-maintained restrooms, a space for showering and laundry, parking for those living in cars or RVs to avoid run-ins with police, and county funds for resources such as mental health services.
“We cannot just take people off the street and move them elsewhere and say, ‘Yes, we need to hook our homeless (people) up with professional services, but anywhere except San Clemente,’ ” said Vidrine. “I do not believe in that.”
Having a safe parking program would be beneficial for neighborhoods and use of police resources, she added, as well as reducing the number of tickets people living in cars would receive. She also expounded on her other stances, saying that providing restrooms, showers, and laundry access would be the humane and cost-effective action to take.
Her general emphasis was on utilizing programs that have been successful in other cities. Both also agree that some homeless people are receptive to receiving services, contrary to a common refrain among those who say otherwise.
During the City Council meeting on Jan. 17, Code Compliance Manager Guillermina Torrico reported from the December update on homelessness that 84%, or 46, of the 55 people city staff had contacted were open to being placed on a list for shelter once a space became available. The other nine declined shelter assistance, because they wanted to remain within the area.
Torrico also reported that people were receptive to food and hygiene services, as well as assistance with documentation, finances, mental health, transportation, and referrals to outside agencies such as Veterans Affairs.
“All of those who were contacted were receptive to some form of service,” Torrico said.
Streeter said that he would also prefer to have a shelter in town, as he believes it would be the only way to comply with the ruling in Martin v. City of Boise, which holds that unhoused persons can’t be punished for sleeping on public spaces outside if there is no shelter available.
“If we are going to be saying we would like people not to camp on our streets, then we have to say where else they should go,” he said. “If we have a shelter, that’s fine. If we don’t have a shelter, then we have to say, ‘OK, where would we like you to camp?’ ”
A significant difference between the two, according to Streeter, is where they fall within the three actions anyone can take on a particular subject: thinking, acting, or politicking.
Vidrine is well into the acting stage after spending years pondering homelessness solutions, whereas Streeter is still thinking and wants to gather ideas from more people.
One person he’d like to hear from is Capt. Jay Christian, the chief of San Clemente Police Services, who hasn’t yet spoken with the collaborative.
“What would be a good way (to) reduce the overall crime level both by the unsheltered homeless and against the unsheltered homeless?” Streeter asked, adding that homelessness is certainly under the umbrella of public safety.
The collaborative is still months out from determining a plan of action before anything is presented to the City Council or the city’s committees, he said. Because he’s taken a more active role in the group as co-chair and asked for them to meet monthly instead of every other month, that step is what Streeter said he hopes will help develop a coherent vision.
He said that presenting separate ideas wouldn’t be beneficial, and the City Council would ask them to come back with a unified plan, anyway.
Identifying a solution is crucial to preserving the health of the homeless, Vidrine added, especially with the current winter weather. She told a story about receiving a call on Monday night, Feb. 27, from a friend who encountered a homeless man in Downtown San Clemente who was cold and shivering but otherwise appeared to not suffer from addiction or mental illness.
If the friend had not stayed by the man’s side and called for both a welfare check and 911 assistance, the man would have died, she said.
“When (the weather’s) like this, we don’t have months to act slowly,” said Vidrine. “We always want to do the right thing, but there’s the crisis situation and there’s the strategic situation. … That’s what the homeless collaborative is about, responding to situations as they change.”
Streeter said that the collaborative must start small with its ambitions, and that his primary one is for the city to repeal its anti-camping ordinance and at least provide a space for people to sleep with their tents and bags without being bothered.
“Then (the council) will say, ‘Hey, if the collaborative worked that out well on this small project, maybe it’ll work out pretty well on a bigger project, too,” he said. “And I’ll step back, and Big Project Lady over there will step forward and say, ‘Here’s how we make it a slightly better project.’ ”
The Homeless Collaborative meets on the second Monday of each month at 4 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church at 35522 Camino Capistrano in San Clemente.
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