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Commission approves homeless task force

Number of incidents related to the homeless in Lions park has grown, and solutions are needed, officials say.

December 13, 2010|By Mona Shadia, mona.shadia@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the creation of a task force that will attempt to address homelessness in the city.

The task force, adopted after a unanimous vote, will have two commissioners and various community members. The commissioners chosen for the task force will be decided at the next meeting.

"I think the task force is a way for the community to vet the current challenges and come up with a potential solution to an issue, which appears to be a major challenge for a lot of people on the Westside and the community at large," Planning Commissioner Steve Mensinger said.

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The number of homeless people continues to grow at Lions Park, which has made it difficult for visitors to frequent it, according to a city staff report. At least 634 incidents involving homeless people at Lions Park were reported by the Police Department this year through September — compared with 129 incidents in 2009 — according to the report prepared last month for both the planning and parks and recreation commissions.

The homeless there are creating an unsafe environment for the surrounding businesses and neighbors when they are intoxicated or engage in physical and verbal fights, the report states.

The Donald Dungan Library just north of the park deals with the overflow of the homeless.

The library's bathrooms were locked after being tagged with graffiti. Some homeless individuals were going in them and getting intoxicated. Now users must ask to use the restrooms, said Susan Sassone, the library's branch manager.

"We do let people use them, but we just get the chance to see who they are," she said. "If they look like they are in mental or physical distress, we keep an eye on them. We've had people sitting there for a long time. We've had people drinking in there."

The library hired a security guard, which costs about $16,000 a year, the report stated. The security guard is there for about 25 hours a week, Sassone said.

"We did have some theft and we especially wanted the security guard to keep an eye on the bookstore," she said.

Employees and visitors of the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center have also complained to the city about the homeless hanging outside of the center, the report stated.

While library employees try their best to provide information on where to get help, Sassone said, the library is not a shelter for the homeless. Sassone added that some homeless people have been frequenting the library for years; some go in and read all day.

"I hope the city can get a better handle on some of the homeless that come to the park," she said. "They are in need of a better place to go to than to hang out all day there. They need better help. They need a place to go to during the day and at night."

Mensinger said part of finding a solution is coming up with a way to help those who need to get back on their feet.

"There's a certain percentage of those people who are Costa Mesa residents," he said. "How do we find jobs for them? How do we provide care? The issues are fairly complex."

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