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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, lauren.williams@latimes.com

Take Denise Krystynak, who was observed that same night laying on a mattress in an alley beside the Bank of America on 19th Street. She and her boyfriend were listening to the radio and openly drinking alcohol. The two had filled a shopping cart with bedding and decorated a nearby tree with stuffed animals, including a gorilla called Bubba.

Krystynak is well-known among police officers for being unpredictable. During confrontations, police have pepper-sprayed and Tasered Krystynak, and officers have arrested her numerous times.

But not everyone fits the mold. Mark S. Whiting, 51, said he has a degree in chemistry from Cal State Fullerton, but was sent to prison for manufacturing methamphetamine.

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He used to live in La Mirada but now calls Lions Park home.

"I'll do anything," Whiting said. "I'll take any job."

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'A perfect storm'

There is a chicken-and-egg riddle in town involving what came first: the homeless people or the secular and faith-based social service providers that help them.

Some believe that the plentiful services draw in people living on the streets. Others remind that the poor have always been with us and that the services sprouted up around them.

Share Our Selves has a free medical clinic, and the Lighthouse Church has showers and free breakfast. Mercy House provides emergency housing and the Labor Ready work program connects the homeless with employers or sober-living homes.

Then there's the Orange Coast Interfaith shelter and the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen.

All these facilities are almost less than a mile apart.

The area near Lions Park has been "historically a safe haven and has high tolerance," Vanguard University sociology professor Ed Clarke said. "People weren't bothered so much in that area."

Shannon Santos, executive director of Someone Cares, said that her grandmother was responding to a need she saw when she opened the soup kitchen 25 years ago.

"We're filling a basic, primal need just giving people hot meals," Santos said. "A lot of people have the misinterpretation that we only serve homeless. We also serve families with children, low-income seniors and vets."

Councilwoman Wendy Leece, a task force member, said that whatever solution the group comes up with, it will be a compassionate one.

"Costa Mesa's always been considered a city with a heart. You have to balance that compassion with the rule of law," she said in an interview.

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