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Hansen: Has city become immune to homeless crime?

May 22, 2013|By David Hansen
  • Diana Munguia, 56, is one of several homeless people who bide their time at the downtown bus stop.
Diana Munguia, 56, is one of several homeless people who… (David Hansen )

It was a summer-like day at Main Beach on Saturday with tourists filling the boardwalk, children enjoying the playground and a group of hardened homeless men passing around a pipe.

Welcome to the visible underbelly of Laguna Beach.

This scene is not new: blatant drug use, bottles of pills left in the open, loud cursing, fights, littering, loitering, intimidation. These issues are not the result of the recently homeless hoping to turn their lives around, or trying to make it into the Friendship Shelter and get a job.

These are the chronically homeless, the severely mentally ill, the long-term addicts or those who simply don't care.

And if we have trained ourselves to ignore the homeless, then why should we be surprised to see what they do in public?

Some of the worst behavior takes place near the downtown bus station on Broadway Street. On Sunday, at the nearby Post Office, a 71-year-old homeless woman in a wheelchair allegedly was attacked by another homeless man, who was arrested.

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"It's no fun listening to it, especially when you're sick," said Dr. William Anderson, who treats patients at the Sleepy Hollow Medical Group, right next to the station.

Anderson has tried for years to get the city to be more creative with the problem. For example, he proposed that the city play classical music, hoping to either diffuse tempers or move them elsewhere.

But seemingly every bus that arrives unloads a new adventure.

Tommy Harris, 72, has seen his fair share of anger and disregard. The soft-spoken city public works employee cleans the bathrooms at the bus station. For 15 years, he has learned to keep his head down and steer clear of trouble. On occasion, if asked, he tries to provide some wisdom.

"I tell them, 'If you don't have any respect for yourself, how are you going to have respect for others?'" said Harris, who lived in Laguna Beach for many years but now lives in Laguna Niguel.

"I pick up everything," he said. "I pick up cigarette butts, I pick up beer cans, I pick up whiskey bottles."

Whenever tempers start to spiral out of control, Harris tries to warn them that the police will come quickly. There are cameras at the bus station, but they can't prevent crime, only chronicle its aftermath.

Plus, the warnings usually don't work because jail can be a reprieve, not a punishment.

"I've had so many guys tell me, 'I don't care if I go to jail,'" Harris said. "I tell them, 'You don't know what you're missing.' And they say, 'Man, I'm not missing nothing.'"

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