Striking a balance

Homeless Task Force attempts to come up with new ways to deal with Costa Mesa's burgeoning homeless population.

May 21, 2011|By Lauren Williams,
(Scott Smeltzer )

COSTA MESA — He cycled around town with an empty child trailer hitched to the back of his bike.

It was around dusk near Lions Park on a recent Tuesday. Other than messy salt-and-pepper hair and ruddy skin from six years of living on the streets, there were few signs that Joseph Deutsch was homeless.

His second-hand shirt and pants were largely well-kept. His solid frame didn't look like it had missed a meal. He spoke confidently, clearly and evenly, not betraying the bipolar disorder he says he suffers from.

The former Santa Barbara resident carried a found guitar in a worn black case, but admitted to not being much of a musician.

"I praise God with it," said Deutsch, 45, adding that he attends morning Bible studies at Lighthouse Church, a house of worship that he calls a "godsend," on Anaheim Avenue near 18th Street.


But one man's godsend — be it a church, soup kitchen or public park — is another's cross. And few places like Costa Mesa's Westside better illustrate the conflict between the homeless who say they come here for help and some long-term residents and shopkeepers who complain that the high volume of street people chase away business and make them feel unsafe.

The job now set before the Homeless Task Force, established in January, is to find solutions for both people like Deutsch, who need help, and concerned residents and business owners who want improved quality of life. Members have a six- to nine-month window to make suggestions to the City Council.

"The concerns of the residents and businesses surrounding the park were, once again, enough for the City Council to take action," said task force Chairman Steve Smith, a freelance Daily Pilot real estate columnist. "When discussing homeless crime, there is the perception and the reality. The perception is that the homeless in Lions Park are predators willing to attack any civilian who strays on their turf.

"The reality is that almost all homeless crime is either solo action, such as drinking in public, or against other homeless people. Police data supports this. That doesn't make it acceptable; it just helps put the safety question in perspective."

Deutsch's story is just one of many. So many people are wandering around Lions Park on 18th Street that the park has been called "Ground Zero" in the city's struggle to address homelessness.

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