Handling the homelessness issue: Peter Blake responds

Thank you in advance for allowing me to respond to Barbara McMurray’s letter to the editor dated June 8, 2018.

In her letter Barbara quotes me as saying that we have opened Pandora’s Box regarding our handling of the homeless in Laguna and offers to “catch me up on some truth.”

Barbara states: “For three decades, our community has responded with well-considered, best-practice models. As a result, in the current county crisis Laguna Beach is considered an expert resource consulted by other cities as they begin wrestling with the issue. We are ahead of the game. Why would anyone vote to go backward to methods proven not to work?”

My thoughts: Barbara, for starters we have not had a homeless problem for three decades. The magnitude of our problem began in 2009 with a frivolous lawsuit filed by the ACLU that implied that we were harassing the homeless. We were forced into establishing the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL) and The Friendship Shelter was chosen to run it. Before that we had a homeless population that was small and consisted of some out of town transients and our fellow resident homeless that we loved and took care of. We are currently considered experts in how to mismanage our homeless situation and the fact that we were “ahead of the game” exacerbated the problem as more transients came to Laguna seeking assistance. Our surrounding communities studied us and learned what NOT to do. They sat back and watched while new transients arrived and made our town unsafe and turned the canyon into ground zero for addicts and criminals. We were thanked for our efforts by being sued again by the ACLU and other homeless advocates. Surrounding cities learned from us that no good deed goes unpunished. Not a single city stepped up to the plate to follow our lead as Dawn Price predicted years ago. They simply were not that ignorant!

Barbara states: “Laguna Beach has more shelter beds per capita than any other city in Orange County. That’s something to be proud of, not something to mock.”

My thoughts: She’s right. It’s not something to mock but to actually use as a lesson as to how not to cower and allow ourselves to be forced into a situation like this again. If Barbara and the Friendship Shelter have their way we will build a 45-unit apartment building to permanently house the chronically homeless right next to the 45 shelter beds at the ASL. Add to that the 32 currently housed at the Friendship Shelter building on Coast Highway and the rest housed in apartments and hotels and you have a number that far exceeds any reasonable approach to solving the homeless problem as a community. We simply do not have the resources to handle this situation. Sorry!

Barbara states: “Laguna is not unsafe, and pushing a false narrative that residents are under threat of violence by homeless people is a dangerous fabrication. LBPD statistics show that the violent crime rate has remained mostly the same or lower since the ASL opened in 2009- a testament to the ample enforcement that exists in our fair burg.”

My thoughts: Now Barbara is deflecting from the main problem we are facing by stating violent crime statistics. She intentionally neglects to discuss the low level crimes that the transient population are responsible for including break-ins both in cars and homes, vandalism, theft, public intoxication, drug possession and the administering of dangerous drugs in public and lewd behavior including masturbating, urinating and defecating in public. Only a fool could assume that Laguna is as safe today as it was ten years ago. 

Barbara states: “If ever we needed proof that homeless people don’t bounce around to find the best deal, it’s right now. If our city’s showers, shelters, meals and permanent housing options were the magnet Blake thinks they are, we’d be overrun right now. Four hundred people were relocated out of the riverbed area in Anaheim and their short-term motel vouchers have mostly run out. Yet we are not seeing an increase in homeless people in our town.”

My thoughts: Somehow we just lucked out and the transient criminals from the riverbed were sent to hotels in San Clemente and other towns. Ask those cities what life is like now. 14,000 hypodermic needles were collected when the squalor was finally emptied and the surrounding residents’ quality of life was finally restored. The residents of Laguna Niguel, Irvine and Huntington Beach were the suggested recipients of this population to live in tent cities on county property. A huge backlash stopped it. Fortunately Barbara’s welcome wagon was in the shop at the time.

Barbara states: “The facts are clear that housing ends homelessness and that well-run, housing-focused shelters can hasten housing placement.”

My thoughts: Maybe building housing for the homeless in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country with taxpayer funds makes sense to Barbara and the Friendship Shelter but I’m frankly baffled by their logic. Wouldn’t these funds better serve the vulnerable in areas where costs are substantially lower? Over the years I’ve watched our elders, friends and our younger generation have to move from their beloved town due to their inability to afford a home or apartment. Somehow we’re asked to justify building housing for these transients? Barbara, why won’t you be honest and admit that the Friendship Shelter stopped requiring sobriety and employment as a condition for your assistance? Admit that the taxpayer funds you thrive on come with non-discriminatory conditions. You’re forced to work with the chronically homeless defined by long lengths of homelessness and having addiction and mental problems. Lengthy criminal records are also tolerated. That suits a criminal justice advocate like yourself who doesn’t support the incarceration of the homeless or addicts. It doesn’t fare well with those of us who feel a palpable police presence. Aggressive enforcement of public nuisance laws are the key to returning our town to a level of safety we enjoyed for decades and we are NOT willing to compromise so that people like yourself with misguided compassion can feel better.

Barbara states: “Anyone who seeks office as a public servant needs to have a basic grasp of a problem he purports to be able to solve. Our political environment these days is too often crowded with politicians saying things that ‘feel’ true but don’t have facts to back them up. While Blake’s angry bluster about the 75 or so individuals in our town may make those who are uncomfortable with homelessness feel a little better, it won’t address homelessness in any meaningful way. Haven’t we had enough of that kind of politician?”

My thoughts: Barbara, what I “feel” is based on my experience garnered from working in downtown Laguna Beach since 1990. I have personally seen crime exponentially rise since we began this dangerous social experiment. We have failed miserably and you know it! Why don’t you admit it instead of lying through omission, misrepresenting facts and using skewed statistics to mask your failures? My “angry bluster” towards the transients does not make those who are uncomfortable with the situation “feel better.” They will feel better when we yank the welcome mat and close the coastal country club that you, the Friendship Shelter, the ACLU and uninformed yet well-meaning socialites have helped create in our community.

Barbara, when elected this November, I will close Pandora’s Box.

Peter Blake

Laguna Beach