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Out of the Blue: Homeless shelter is a moral imperative

May 01, 2014|By Billy Fried

Many big, and often contentious, events have defined our city for the modern era.

MTV made us a shallow brand. The Montage heralded a new level of upscale tourism. The closing of the Boom Boom Room ended our vibrant gay scene. Skyrocketing real estate profoundly changed the fabric of our city from funky, artsy and eclectic to elderly, wealthy and homogenized.

Now comes a project that will surpass all of these in defining for future generations just who we are as people.

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Our very legacy as a generous, tolerant and welcoming community is at stake. It's just one 40-room homeless shelter in the canyon. It won't solve the homeless crisis. But it will make a powerful statement that we don't immunize our community from those in need.

Sure, some of the homeless can be unpleasant, a blight on our bliss. Some defecate downtown and are impolite and hygiene-challenged. They're bad for our sense of safety and well-being. Many are mentally ill. And that can be dangerous.

But we simply don't have a choice. It's doctrine in every belief system — showing compassion to those who are suffering. In the Buddhist faith, this is the path to nirvana. For Muslims it is one of the five tenets to a pious and righteous life. And, of course, in Christianity it's simply God's will.

Taking care of the needy is in our DNA. The Laguna Beach Community Clinic, formed in the late '60s to provide free healthcare to those with no insurance or means of payment, continues to function today as a beacon for thousands of low-income families who come to Laguna — not for the shopping and dining but for the care.

There are 3.5 million homeless nationwide, and we will get our share. So just as we are currently charting our future by addressing increased visits and more traffic, we must come to terms with the fact that the homeless will be a proportionate part of that mix. We provide shelter for sick sea lions and mistreated dogs, rescue dolphins and whales, but do we really want to hermetically seal our town from people less lovely than us?

We are not the only mecca with this problem. Look up and down the West Coast, and you will see a similar homeless migration to Santa Monica, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. It's California, and they are coming.

Plus, as our income-chasm widens and more capital is taken out of circulation by the wealthy, we are sure to spawn more who can't make ends meet.

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