Looking to cut down on homeless services in Costa Mesa, Mayor Eric Bever asked the city CEO to investigate some of the city's most prominent charities.
Costa Mesa's homeless population has been a stubborn issue for city officials. Residents consistently complain that individuals overtake public facilities like Lions Park and the Costa Mesa Donald Dungan Library.
The city has tried to make it less hospitable for homeless people by banning smoking in parks and other measures, but they just congregate elsewhere, officials and residents say.
Now, Bever is looking to address what some say attracts homeless people from other cities.
"These businesses—nonprofit, profit, whatever—are creating tremendous impacts on our community," said Bever, who compared the nonprofits to nightclubs that bother neighbors.
It would go a long way to solving the problem of homeless people coming to Costa Mesa, he added, "If we managed to put the soup kitchen out of business."
That assertion is off-base, said Shannon Santos, the executive director of Someone Cares.
A survey the soup kitchen conducted in 2011 found that 86% of its guests said they were from Costa Mesa, and about 40% were low-income seniors, many of whom live in the nearby Bethel Towers apartments, she said.
"There's a big misconception that the only people we're feeding here at the kitchen are the homeless people," Santos said. "I would love to invite the mayor to come in and see who we are really serving, and I think he'd be surprised."
Bever's hard-line request came outside of the city's task forces designed to address homelessness. The Homeless Task Force and Neighborhood Improvement Task Force have worked to reconnect homeless people with their families, discouraged groups from providing food in Lions Park, and restricted where people can lock up their belongings at the library, among other measures.
"Those are the kinds of things that we're doing, because we want to address this problem holistically, and not go in with guns blazing … and end up in court," said city Assistant CEO Rick Francis, one of the leaders of the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force.
Los Angeles found itself in a lawsuit when it tried to seize personal belongings left unattended on skid row — one of the measures that Costa Mesa officials are planning to implement.
Two residents complained at Tuesday's council meeting about unattended belongings and other homeless issues.
"We have homeless people out in our neighborhoods," said Beth Refakes. "It's getting out of control."
Lions Park is about midway between Someone Cares on 19th Street and SOS on Superior Avenue. The two operators have been in the city for decades — Someone Cares for 26 years and SOS for 43.
Someone Cares serves meals daily, and SOS provides a variety of services, from groceries and clothing to mental health counseling and dental care.
SOS Executive Director Karen McGlinn said her clients are from both Costa Mesa and other Orange County cities, and that Bever "should be proud" that "we are a center that's protecting the health and welfare of the people in the county."
McGlinn said Bever, who is termed out in November, has never visited the center.
"He has no knowledge. His message is old," she said. "Thank God he is going out the door."