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Community comes out to discuss homeless facility

April 24, 2014|By Bryce Alderton

It seemed as if all of Laguna Beach descended on City Council chambers Tuesday night.

About 200 residents, some even standing outside City Hall if they couldn't find a place to sit or stand inside, were there to listen and provide input on a proposed facility that would house 40 chronically homeless people, many of them mentally ill, in Laguna Canyon.

What ensued was a complex discussion that touched on other issues, such as reports of transients harassing residents, visitors and business owners, and other projects proposed for the canyon. Tuesday's meeting came on the heels of the City Council's approval of a 30-unit artist live-work project on Laguna Canyon Road.

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Friendship Shelter, a Laguna Beach agency that helps homeless adults achieve self-sufficiency, is working with Irvine-based Jamboree Housing Corp. on the proposal.

The two-story building would house the most vulnerable people, those who have a disabling condition that prevents them from living independently without ongoing support, Friendship Shelter Executive Director Dawn Price told the council.

The building would sit on a city-owned plot at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road between the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the dog park, adjacent to the Alternative Sleeping Location, according to a city staff report.

The ASL, an overnight emergency shelter, has provided meals and a place to sleep for 45 homeless people since 2009. The ASL would continue its operation but would provide space for 35 people each night.

A greater number of homeless are using the ASL as a permanent home instead of a temporary shelter, Price said.

"Many were in the shelter, sleeping on a mat every night," Price said. "They are our target clients. We know them. You know them."

The project could potentially save $1 million a year by easing the burden on a variety of public services, Price said, suggesting a 81% drop in police calls and 67% drop in emergency room use. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development endorses permanent supportive housing, she added.

Dog park advocates and mammal center officials are concerned about the proposal.

Mammal center staff say that the proposed facility would encroach on their property, bringing residents too close to federally protected, endangered sea mammals in rehabilitation, according to a letter from Keith Matassa, the mammal center's executive director.

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