By Lauren Kleiman, Newport Beach City Council, District 6
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to readers to know that a recent UCI poll of Orange County residents revealed that an overwhelming majority viewed homelessness as the number one issue and were seeking action from local leaders to address it. This is certainly consistent with the sentiment in Newport Beach and is also one of the main issues that prompted me to run for City Council last year.
Upon taking office, I spent countless hours researching the regulatory framework and talking to every city in Orange County, as well as others in neighboring Los Angeles and San Diego counties, to understand which approaches were working and which were failing.
On the City Council Homeless Ad Hoc Committee created in the new year, I audited and analyzed every expenditure, partnership, and effort put forth by our various City departments, which were – and still are – substantial; the City employs a full-time Homeless Coordinator and a full-time Newport Beach Police Department Homeless Liaison Officer, we contract with City Net for homeless outreach services and Be Well OC for mobile mental health response, and have a partnership with the City of Costa Mesa for temporary shelter beds.
The result of our Ad Hoc Committee’s analysis of the City’s existing program was not that we have to do more than what the City has been doing, but that we have to do things differently—in a more focused, coordinated fashion, with an emphasis on accountability and outcomes.
With a tremendous amount of input from the public, the Council voted unanimously to support our Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations to adopt a policy that holds everyone accountable for the goal of getting individuals off of the street, and a new ordinance that prohibits interference with public access near schools and other facilities, unpermitted structures such as tents, as well as certain conduct on public property and in public restrooms.
As the City is acutely aware that the death toll of the unhoused population in Orange County continues to rise (up from 85 in 2010, to 395 in 2021), the policy focuses all efforts and expenditures on “street exits.”
Street outreach will continue, of course, but the expectation is outcomes, not output, since the consensus among those most experienced working in this complex field is that we can best provide much-needed assistance once an individual is no longer living on the street.
The remainder of the policy offers additional structure and guidance in support of the overall directive; including collection and reporting of data across all departments and partners, revising all of our current contracts to build in clear deliverables that are consistent with the policy, acquiring additional shelter beds, as needed, and launching a community education campaign for the City’s Good Giving program.
We have already amended our agreement with Costa Mesa to increase the number of beds at our shared shelter facility, and are in the process of revising our contract with Be Well to address the gaps identified by our Ad Hoc Committee, such as proactively connecting individuals to mental health and addiction support, housing navigation, Cal Optima’s Cal AIM program, and the State’s CARE Court.
We can’t fix this systemic problem without greater legal latitude and comprehensive solutions from other branches of government, but our priority remains to get as many people as possible into the County’s Continuum of Care through an adaptive, data-driven holistic approach.
With the stated objective of offering services first, we also have the responsibility to every resident, business, and visitor, to consistently and fairly enforce all of our laws, for the preservation of order, which is non-negotiable in Newport Beach.
I want to extend my gratitude to our Police Department and staff for their tremendous efforts and successes, working diligently, hand-in-hand with our providers, to engage and educate the community since the adoption of the new policy.