Either the homeless problem is getting worse or camping isn't what it used to be.
- Bill Maher
For a while, it appeared the homeless issue here in Manhattan Beach was starting to spiral out of control, a la Venice or Santa Monica or Skid Row. Resident complaints about the homeless were up, the library and the Civic Center were beginning to be overrun, even the bus benches along Sepulveda were taking on the appearance of outdoor 'lodgings' (see photo below).
In response, a number of Manhattan Beach residents last year formed a voluntary grass roots organization, MB SAFE (Manhattan Beach Safe Alternatives For Everyone) to advocate for a community-wide response to the burgeoning homeless problem while ensuring the safety and protection of Manhattan Beach's residents through effective law enforcement. (Here's a link to the MB SAFE Facebook page).
MB SAFE lobbied for a homelessness liaison at City Hall, a position that has since been created and has been capably manned by a Senior Management Analyst, George Gabriel, for at least a year now.
And both George and MBPD have been responsive in addressing resident calls and emails concerning the homeless.
As a result, progress is evident. Councilperson Suzanne Hadley, who also works at our library downtown, says the situation at the library is significantly improved. And your author's tour of a Civic Center Plaza free of crashed-out homeless early one weekend in July provided further anecdotal evidence that incremental progress was being made compared to a year ago.
Of course, there's still work to be done, as the recent photo below, taken by an MB SAFE member, indicates (obviously a heavy reader).Now the City is poised this coming Tuesday, October 15, to approve an award of some $324,000 (all of which will be reimbursed by the County of Los Angeles) to Harbor Interfaith Services for a 16-month contract to provide service professionals and case managers to deal with the homeless in the beach cities.
City Council will also be disbanding the 10-member Homelessness Task Force (HTF) made up of Manhattan Beach residents, including two of the directors of MB SAFE.
To us, the HTF always seemed more of a sop to appease community concerns rather than an integral part of any sort of coordinated homelessness strategy (the City website itself is ambiguous and says the scope of the task force "will develop over time").
The HTF was involved with helping obtain the Measure H grant award (the source of the County funding for the proposed Harbor Interfaith Services contract, mentioned above) but, after that, their one key initiative - locating shelter beds to offer the homeless living outdoors here in Manhattan Beach - came up empty when the city of Bell squelched an agreement in principle for Manhattan Beach to 'purchase' one or two shelter beds in the Bell Salvation Army facility.
Furthermore, one has to question the effectiveness of the Homelessness Task Force when one of its members, appointed by Mayor Nancy Hersman, goes on social media (Next Door) to respond to resident concerns over a possible Federal-government sponsored homeless shelter just several hundred yards from residential neighborhoods in Liberty Village, and contemptuously replies, "Karma's a bitch" (the comment has since been removed - Hersman must have given her appointee a serious talking-to).
She also posted a slam at some of her fellow HTF members by stating they were more concerned about their property values than advocating solutions for the homeless. Now that's very revealing.
Translation: The Mayor's appointee apparently believes that most Manhattan Beach homeowners are arrogant elitists and therefore, we should feel obligated, as an act of atonement, to fund our own local homeless housing option, along with the homeless service providers and drop-off sites that go along with it.
In other words, if you fall off a bus here in Manhattan Beach, plunk yourself down on a Civic Center bench and declare yourself homeless, you are now Manhattan Beach's responsibility and, to atone for our over-privileged status, we must provide you housing or, at the very least, a support system and resources (mobile showers, laundry, food, etc). To not do so shows a lack of compassion and, in her view, an unseemly preoccupation with property values. Hence the snide "Karma's a bitch" comment.
One wonders if the Mayor herself shares this point of view with her appointee.
And, from what we hear, the Mayor's appointee is not the only 'compassionista' on HTF with this viewpoint.
Of course, if you're a local 'housed' resident and object to a shelter or homeless services in Manhattan Beach, well, then you're just heartless and lacking in empathy (the compassionistas are big on the concept of empathy, which is something they apparently have lots of and you don't).
Forget the fact that you might think a group of mostly substance-abusing or mentally ill homeless freely coming and going from a low/no barriers homeless facility in or near Manhattan Beach's family-friendly neighborhoods is not a good idea for both family safety as well as property values.
So, on Tuesday, the Homelessness Task Force will be disbanded by City Council and that's probably a good thing.
Except I have this nagging concern.
While I'm certain MB SAFE is continuing to investigate other shelter options, what is the City doing? This is important because a credible shelter option must be available in order to enforce our anti-camping ordinance, per the 9th Circuit's Boise decision (see Potatoes and the 9th Circuit for more details).
One councilperson, Suzanne Hadley, feels that the best we can do at present is to rely on the contracted services with Harbor Interfaith to direct the homeless to county services. She feels enforcement of our anti-camping ordinance is not doable at present, due to the potential threat of litigation from the ACLU and other homeless advocates. Which is true unless, of course, the Boise decision is reversed on appeal at the US Supreme Court (see Obama and the Gift That Keeps On Giving).
Interestingly, in Kern County, the sheriff has raised the possibility of jailing the homeless on misdemeanor drug offenses and trespassing charges as opposed to anti-camping violations. But that's a discussion for another day.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, this is Dan, a homeless vet whose wizened, soulful visage was captured on The Strand to dramatic effect by an excellent local photographer (see her work on Instagram at xmauigirl). I suspect that Dan would be a good candidate for at least interim housing if he trusted that the offer was genuine.
Perhaps a good starting point for our soon-to-be-authorized Harbor Interfaith Services case management team?