4:39 PM PST, December 20, 2013
We're not yet prepared to endorse or oppose a proposal to build homeless housing at Civic Center Park in Costa Mesa. The idea shows great promise and warrants serious review, but we'll reserve final judgment until more specifics become available.
We are, however, assured that the City Council agreed to examine whether the 2.5-acre property would make a suitable living environment for the most vulnerable among us. Looking the other way and pretending (or wishing) the homeless will vanish is not the attitude of a just and caring society, and we're glad that a city known for its compassionate residents is interested in directly tackling its most challenging social problem.
But this is not a slam dunk. There are issues and residents, namely those who live in apartments and condominiums nearby, to consider. Their concerns deserve a full and fair hearing. We get why many folks are reflexively opposed, even without all the facts. Few of us would willingly sign up for homeless housing adjacency.
But if the project is done right — and that remains a big if — it could have minimal impact on quality of life, possibly even improving it by taking people off the streets and giving them warm beds. Costa Mesans' exposure to the homeless could actually decrease, largely because at least this population would have permanent homes. And the housing will also be close to the police station, which we and the neighbors should find comforting.
At this point the council voted only to look into the possibility of building shelter at the park. City staff members will research the idea and then report back to the council. The idea for up to 50 units was recommended by a city task force. Members recommended not only housing but support services.
Whether this project happens or not, the task force that recommended the location, and the council members who voted to consider it, have the right attitude. Costa Mesa, which is home to a valuable soup kitchen and other necessary charities, does not, like some other towns, turn away the poor (something we should all pause to remember at Christmastime).
But serving the poor comes at a price. Look no further than Lion's Park for evidence of how an overpopulation of homeless can harm a public asset meant for children. The motels, built for short-term stays, are not appropriate long-term solutions, particularly for families with children. Some restraint is warranted but the city's charitable traditions should remain in place.
We think that officials' desire to help the homeless with connections to Costa Mesa itself — namely it's where they grew up or last lived when they had a home — is the right approach. We are OK with Costa Mesa saying, "We take care of our own." Many places don't even do that.
This is why we agree with officials' sentiments that Costa Mesa cannot — and should not — absorb more than its fair share of a countywide problem. More cities need to step up and do for theirs as we do for ours.