Monday, February 16, 2009

Homelessness, Laguna Lessons

The lovely beach town in Orange County is running up against the consequences they may have created in the new law school at the University of California at Irvine—using legal tactics that are also being used in Sacramento.

In addition, the legal work is largely funded by the development interests and the community development created, which the law school is now attacking, as reported by this article.

An excerpt.

“The homeless here seem to be as mellow as the beach town in which they live. Michael and Robert, wearing sunglasses and relaxing in a park overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean, cheerfully list for me the meals and services available to them: coffee and Danish brought to the park every weekday morning; bag lunches and dinner feedings; showers, laundry and kitchen facilities at a drop-in center; and shelter during the winter months.

“But residents and business owners complain of some vagrants' increasingly disruptive behavior. Winos drink outside of stores, then urinate and defecate on sidewalks, planters and walls. Homeless people fight among themselves and curse out other residents who complain.

“John, a 58-year-old drifter sitting on a bench outside of City Hall, told me that in his six-and-a half years living on Laguna's streets he's had "only favorable interactions with the police but nothing but bad experiences with other homeless." Indeed, just four days before John and I spoke, a 230-pound man whom the police had taken to mental-health treatment numerous times grabbed a girl jogging on the beach, promptly smacked another girl in the mouth, then punched this second victim's father when he tried to intervene.

“The Laguna City Council has been struggling to solve its homeless problem for nearly two years. Following the recommendations of a task force, it is now paying for a full-time police officer to assist the homeless with getting into treatment and off the streets. Despite a nonstop effort, the officer has found only a handful of takers. The council has also approved funding to enlarge Laguna's homeless assistance center. Neighborhood resistance, however, has blocked the expansion effort.”