Retired Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder briefed the Huntington Beach City Council this week on efforts to address homelessness countywide.
Roeder is a member of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, which is working with city and county governments, police agencies, faith groups, nonprofits and the private sector to address chronic homelessness.
"We find in Orange County that cities that we've met ... [have] a very specific approach and different need within in their community," Roeder said. "Flexibility and how you approach that is really the key."
The number of homeless people, sheltered and unsheltered, has dropped from 8,333 countywide in 2009 to 4,251 in 2013, according to Roeder's presentation. The data were compiled by about 700 volunteers surveying homeless people in a single day in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Roeder credited the efforts of faith-based organizations and nonprofits for the reduction in the numbers, mainly because they offered food, shelter and support for those who wanted help. He added that it will take time, collaboration and patience while working with other groups to further lower the homeless population.
"There will be many points of frustration along the way," said Roeder, who retired from Costa Mesa City Hall in 2011 after 36 years in various positions. "We've worked with cities that felt that they were right on the verge of being able to put together a package for an emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent housing only to have those [plans] unfold."
Costa Mesa officials, for example, recently suggested researching whether Civic Center Park would make a good location for long-term homeless housing but changed course after neighbors complained.
In Huntington Beach, officials are also wrestling with the issue by surveying homeless people in areas known for homelessness, such as Beach Boulevard, the Santa Ana River Channel, Central Park, Pier Plaza and downtown.
Officials there agreed that it will take cooperation among agencies, the private sector and the faith community to reduce homelessness.
"This isn't just a social program, this isn't just a housing program, this isn't just law enforcement," Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper said. "I really appreciate that all of you have an understanding that this is about integrating a lot of government resources and a lot of charitable resources as well."