By Mayor Pro-Tem Paul Wyatt
“We have a homeless problem and it’s getting worse!”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this I’d be rich. In January of this year, I was appointed to represent the City Council on the Dana Point Homeless Task Force. I immediately started doing my homework, attending meetings, reading articles, looking at other cities to find best practices, talking to businesses and residents, and this statement keeps coming.
During this six-month period, I’ve heard a lot of statements, such as: the headline of this article, “we cannot arrest our way out of homelessness,” “many homeless are service resistant,” “if we take care of them it will encourage more to come,” “feeding them enables them,” “it’s much less expensive to house them than to leave them homeless,” and many more. My concern with all these statements is that they are accurate, but incomplete and leave everyone throwing up their hands in frustration.
Dana Point residents’ level of concern was proven at the June 20 City Council meeting. Not only did a significant number of residents attend this meeting to hear Police Chief Russ Chilton’s “Presentation Regarding Homelessness on Hillsides and Neighborhoods,” they stayed for six hours until after midnight for the presentation and their chance to express their experiences and concerns.
This past week’s Task Force meeting was the first since October 2016, the first since I was appointed. After hearing status updates from the county and the police chief and concerns expressed from the committee members and residents on the pace of progress, I concluded that the Task Force needed to meet monthly and become more action focused. My goals for the Dana Point Homeless Task Force are: (1) to set a clear charter for the Task Force, (2) to establish realistic goals for reducing or eliminating homelessness, (3) to develop an action plan for achieving those goals, and (4) to combine our efforts with our neighboring cities to have a regional impact.
Getting back to those statements that I quoted above, here’s how I’d like to complete each of the statements:
- “We cannot arrest our way out of homelessness”: By showing and insisting on mutual respect, we can hold the homeless to the same standards of conduct that all other residents and visitors to our city are held to. We can and will always connect them to a care coordinator to ensure we are aware of their needs and that they have access to all the services available.
- “Many of the homeless are service resistant”: We have not established the level of trust to make them believe we want to help them and not get rid of them. We cannot provide services and housing for our benefit, we must provide services and housing for their benefit.
- “If we take care of them it will encourage more to come”: By implementing our regional approach, the same standards are imposed and the same services are provided by the same service providers, no matter the entry point.
- “Feeding them enables them”: Gaining access to the services they need enables the care coordinators to build the rapport and trust needed to assess their needs. By always having care coordinators at every feed, every meal moves them one step closer to being permanently housed.
- “It’s much less expensive to house them than to leave them homeless”: Those savings are given directly to the housing providers to allow them to continue to expand their services.
There is a lot more to be said on this subject and I’ll welcome your ideas. For those of you who would like to learn more about this topic, go to (1) OC.gov website and read Susan Price’s “An Assessment of Homeless Services in Orange County”, dated Oct. 18, 2016. Ms. Price is the Orange County Director of Care Coordination. And (2) unitedwayoc.org website and read “Cost Study of Homelessness, Executive Summary” produced by Orange County United Way, Jamboree and University of California, Irvine.
Join us for our Wednesday, Aug. 30, Task Force meeting or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.