City Life: An honest look at Costa Mesa's homeless problem

June 14, 2011|By Steve Smith

Parents, the next time a mother tells you she would not take her child to play in Lions Park, you are telling her the truth if you reply, "Your kid is far more likely to be hurt by someone you know than a homeless stranger at Lions Park."

But as reported in the Daily Pilot, on June 8, David Banks, 42, was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a 3-year-old child at Lions Park. Banks was charged with felony child cruelty, assault and battery, assaulting an officer, felony vandalism to a police unit and obstruction of justice.

Apparently, Banks threw a ball at the child hard enough to leave a mark. Still, let's make one thing clear: If Banks is guilty, I hope he spends a lot of time in jail.


But don't let this isolated incident influence you.

That Banks is homeless makes no difference whatsoever. Think about it: Would any of the circumstances change had Banks been an office worker at the park on his lunch hour?

Aside from the recent story, when was the last time you read of a Costa Mesa homeless person arrested for harming a child? We hear of children being harmed every day all over the country, yet there is never a designation of their habitat, except when they are homeless.

I recently resigned as chairman of Costa Mesa's Homeless Task Force. I am probably one of the few people in America who means it when he says that he is resigning to spend more time with his family.

What I learned while chairman was that there are perceptions about the homeless that have no relation to reality.

My extensive research included field trips to other cities to meet with representatives and learn what they are doing about their homeless. I met with a representative of Long Beach to learn the same thing and conducted phone interviews with representatives from Kings County, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

I had countless other meetings with city staff, conducted untold hours of Internet research, met with Art Goddard of the Costa Mesa Historical Society, and Susan Sassone, librarian at the downtown branch, to learn about the challenges they face at Lions Park.

I went on police ride-along through the area around Lions Park to learn more about law enforcement's role, had several meetings with members and leaders of local churches, and made dozens of other trips to Lions Park to see for myself how the homeless have affected the area.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles