Housing grant is accepted

Local nonprofits serving displaced families say they will check citizenship of patrons before helping them.

September 15, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

The Costa Mesa City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to accept a $560,237 federal grant that will help struggling families stay in their homes.

The decision comes two weeks after officials tabled the matter over concerns that the money might assist illegal immigrants.

The two local nonprofits that will benefit from the grant, Mercy House and Serving People in Need, agreed to check the immigration status of their patrons to help allay the council’s concerns. Under federal law, Costa Mesa cannot require the nonprofit groups to check immigration status, but both organizations volunteered to do so.

“We will only serve legal residents — that is our history. That is what we’ve always done,” said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House. “Like or dislike immigration policy, that is not the issue here. We follow the law.”


Mercy House offers programs to prevent homelessness and transitional housing to people trying to get off the streets in Orange County and Ontario.

“We knew this money would be for Costa Mesa residents,” said Jean Wegener, executive director of Serving People in Need. “It will be for low-income people or people who have lost their jobs, and that will include seniors.”

Serving People in Need, based in Costa Mesa, helps find permanent housing for the working poor, homeless and people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.

Costa Mesa resident Martin Millard spoke out against accepting the grant money.

“If you can’t afford to live in Costa Mesa, move to where you can afford to live,” Millard said. “Santa Ana is in walking distance, and the rents are a heck of a lot cheaper in Santa Ana.”

The federal grant money will go to help families who recently became homeless, or are on the verge of losing their homes, by helping provide money for rent, deposits, utility bills and moving costs.

The money also will be used to boost programs that help people find stable housing, legal services and repair their credit.

The City Council approved an application for the grant back in April.

“I think the money is part of our tax dollars well spent. I think it will help some of our citizens,” said Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Leece before the vote.

Leece expressed reservations over accepting the grant money at the last City Council meeting two weeks ago.

The councilwoman said local churches, rather than the government, should step in to help people who are struggling making ends meet.

Leece said Tuesday that she was pleased the two nonprofits had volunteered to check immigration status.

In other business, the council delayed making a decision on whether to continue the city’s red light camera program to give city staff time to research the matter further.

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