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Commentary: Treat homeless with kindness, not disdain or detachment

September 11, 2013|By Jessica deStefano

We contribute to drought victims in Somalia, earthquake victims in Afghanistan and tsunami victims in Japan. We build schools in Haiti, save children in the Philippines, dig wells all over Africa.

Yet right here it home we shame and stigmatize our own homeless. We shove them out of sight, afraid if we are nice to them we might encourage them. Here in Laguna Beach we even criminalize them. The police routinely ticket and arrest them.

Yes Laguna has an Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) for the homeless. It is three miles out of town on Laguna Canyon Road. It functions more to get the homeless out of sight and out of downtown than it does to help them or to solve the problems that made them homeless in the first place.

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I don't mean to discredit the many wonderful people in Laguna and on the Interfaith Council who care and do an amazing job of preparing a meal each night at the shelter. But I Invite any of you reading this to visit the ASL parking lot and see if you would want to spend even one night there. Yes, it is more than what many cities have, but it is a slum.

Every night, about 60 homeless people come to the shelter for the evening meal. It sleeps only 45 on floor mats, which means about 15 must be locked out after the meal. This overflow of homeless must sleep somewhere.

If they come back into town, they are almost for certain to be ticketed by police for loitering or sleeping on the benches or the beach. Most of them therefore opt to sleep in the ASL parking lot, where there are no bathroom facilities.

Police raid the lot periodically, ticketing the homeless and taking the few possessions they have, even though they have done nothing criminal. If they resist, they are taken away in handcuffs.

I have a vision. My vision is that Laguna could do a lot better than this. Laguna could be the example for the rest of the nation of how to treat the homeless with justice and fairness. We are already an example to the rest of the nation. We've been the subject of a TV show. We could be the example of something truly great.

We could be the answer to the problem of homelessness that the rest of the world is looking for. The homeless in Laguna number only 60. Surely we can do better than ticketing them and hauling them off to jail. We could expand our existing ASL shelter. With all the creative minds and caring people in Laguna we could fill it with programs that would serve as ladders out of the pit of homelessness.

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