A familiar face was back in Newport Beach this week talking about a familiar topic.
Former City Manager Dave Kiff was the guest speaker at the Corona del Mar Residents Association board meeting on Thursday. Kiff, now the interim CEO of Association of California Cities-Orange County, discussed the issue of homelessness.
In an effort to solve the issue, Orange County officials have concluded that every region in the county needs to have a share of the shelter beds and every city needs to have a share of permanent supportive housing, Kiff explained. That’s 2,700 beds county-wide, including about 76 supportive housing units in Newport, he added.
“We’re optimistic that this is a solution,” Kiff said. “Is it a solution today? No. It’s a four to five year away solution. It takes a long time to get all that housing back in the pipeline.”
They’ve divided the cities up into regions, with Newport Beach in the “central” region, along with Santa Ana, Seal Beach and Garden Grove.
Newport, and other OC cities, are pretty built out already, Kiff noted. So where to put all these beds? It’s time to get creative and consider retrofitting old malls or office buildings, he suggested.
ACC-OC has been trying to work on funding all of this, Kiff said. To build that many beds in a high-priced area like Orange County could cost as much as $850 million, Kiff said.
There are a lot of reasons why homelessness is an issue, Kiff said.
Part of the reason for homelessness in Orange County is the sheer number of people combined with the high housing costs in Southern California, Kiff pointed out.
“That’s put a strain on the whole continuum of housing,” Kiff said.
People “simply can’t afford” to live and work here, he noted. Layer on top of that any mental health and fiscal issues and it’s a challenge, he added.
There are several steps officials are taking to work on the issue.
It starts with simply putting a roof over their heads by providing immediate shelter, Kiff explained.
The next step would be to get them into transitional housing, where they can stay for a few months or even as long as 18 months. This is meant to help stabilize them, Kiff said, which means getting them into recovery or mental help treatment, if needed, and job training.
Then, the next step is more permanent supportive housing, a long-term home (like an already established apartment complex) with supervision or someone checking in on the tenant, and providing certain services.
A big part of the recent effort came after U.S. District Judge David Carter basically declared that the people camping along the Santa Ana River bed was a problem and the people needed to be moved. Between 400 and 1,000 people were camping in the river bed, Kiff noted.
“So, they did that. The county and the cities there cleared those folks out,” Kiff said.
Some people moved to the Santa Ana Civic Center, which was cleared out again later, and many went into shelters that were set up. But many people also went into the communities, Kiff said.
“That certainly added to the concern that you would see in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach,” of seeing more homeless people, he commented.
Carter argued that cities should not be enforcing anti-camping laws unless they can offer to put all those people in beds.
“So even though you’ve got an anti-camping law on the books, like Newport does, you need to be able to tell that person that they have another place to go. If they reject that bed, then you can kick them out of where they are,” Kiff explained.
In September, a set of ninth circuit judges in Boise essentially confirmed Carter’s direction through an unrelated case. The Appeals Court case ruled that people can’t be prosecuted for sleeping on the streets of the Idaho capital city.
“[The ninth circuit judges] said, basically, what Judge Carter said is the law of the land,” Kiff noted.
As a result of this, Orange County has been working on getting more beds, Kiff said.
It’s a continuing effort that Newport Beach has a role in, which may not be shelters or beds, but there are other ways to help, Kiff said, and that’s what they’re working on.
The CdMRA meeting also featured updates from Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, councilmen Scott Peotter and Jeff Herdman, Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank, Parks, Beaches and Recreation Chairman Walt Howald, Finance Committee member Joe Stapleton, and Newport Beach Police Lieutenant Keith Krallman.