Task Force Mulls Homeless Solutions Amid Growing Frustration

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The Newport Beach Homeless Task Force was slammed with questions — including how it will work with the county to clear out the homeless encampment at the Newport Transportation Center — during a standing-room-only meeting Monday that drew about 200 residents to the Newport Beach Public Library.

The Task Force formed five subcommittees to tackle the subject areas of housing options, data collection, public relations and education, crisis response to OCTA bus station on Avocado Avenue, and law enforcement and related legal constraints. The subcommittees are expected to report back to the Homeless Task Force with their suggestions.

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill led the meeting with the support of Council members Brad Avery and Joy Brenner. City Manager Grace Leung, Police Chief Jon Lewis, and NBPD Homeless Liaison Officer Tony Yim also attended.

The Task Force heard a presentation from Matt Bates, vice president at homeless service provider City Net and Senior Planner Jaime Murillo followed by a flurry of public comments.

O’Neill said he and Avery have been working on homelessness behind the scenes for a while but just formalized the discussion in May by establishing the Task Force.

“I can assure you the frustrations are shared at the Council and the [Task Force] because we want to do better,” O’Neill said.

Brenner took a slightly sharper stance on homelessness in Newport Beach.

“I think we should preface these meetings by also saying, ‘we’re also mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,’” Brenner said.

In January, the county-sponsored 2019 Point in Time survey identified 67 people who were homeless in Newport Beach, Bates noted. At the request of Chief Lewis, the City Council approved a three-year contract with City Net in March to engage with this homeless population.

City Net provides the city with two outreach workers and an outreach supervisor at an annual cost of $200,000 per year, Bates said. The nonprofit professionals also deploy with interns pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

City Net’s primary mission is to connect homeless individuals with housing but it’s just as important for local governments to offer programs that prevent additional people from becoming homeless, Bates said.

“The moment someone becomes street level they’re exposed to things that make it much harder for them to find housing than it was in the first place,” he said.

A few residents asked how many of the homeless individuals counted were Newport Beach residents when they became homeless. Bates said he would work on getting the Task Force that number.

Residents also pushed back against those who dismiss their concerns as a “Not in My Back Yard” attitude, arguing that Newport Beach real estate is simply too expensive to be a cost-effective emergency shelter.

Laguna Woods resident Joan Graham said she regularly visits her daughter’s Newport Beach home and is dismayed by the drug dealing she’s spotted in town. Graham said she developed a knack for spotting dealers while teaching in the inner city of Milwaukee.

“The more we enable them the more they come,” she said. “You need to get at the dealers around here. I’ve seen that change too, certain people who didn’t live here before that I think are dealing.”

In a settlement approved Tuesday by U.S. District Judge David Carter, the county and homeless advocates agreed on procedures that will allow Orange County deputy sheriffs to remove homeless people from restricted areas of John Wayne Airport’s property, OC Flood Control District channels, and OC Parks.

County health care and social workers must be allowed to engage a homeless individual before deputy sheriffs can either write citations or make arrests. However, homeless advocates say it’s difficult to convince people to move into a shelter if they’re required to give up their pets or sleep in a different area from their spouse or partner.

One recent success story in the County’s efforts to end homelessness was a $2.9 million check presented by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) to the Orange County United Way to fund housing.

“No man or woman who bravely served our nation should be without a roof over his or her head,” Petrie-Norris wrote in a statement. “This crisis is shameful and we need to ensure that the veterans who have given so much have permanent homes and supportive services.”

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