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Lighting the darkest path

Irvine-based Illumination Foundation works with homeless who are recovering from cancer, surgeries or other medical treatments, giving them shelter and chance for survival.

July 30, 2011|By Lauren Williams, lauren.williams@latimes.com
  • [Darrell Patrick Eitel, 52, is temporarily living at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn as he goes through chemotherapy for Colorectal Cancer.
[Darrell Patrick Eitel, 52, is temporarily living at… (Kevin Chang, Daily…)

This is the third in an occasional series about homelessness in Costa Mesa.

COSTA MESA — A three-tiered fountain covered with blue tiles and topped with a pair of dolphins greets visitors at the entrance to the Costa Mesa Motor Inn.

Doors to the motel's rooms are shut. Many of the rooms are dark and quiet. In others, blaring televisions interrupt the silence.

Behind some of these doors are patients recently discharged from Orange County hospitals. They are deemed well enough to go home, but have no homes to go to.

Through the Irvine-based Illumination Foundation, homeless who are in recovery after major surgeries, comas, cancer and other emergencies requiring hospitalization are placed in O.C. motels like the Motor Inn until it's time to move on.

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At times the efforts of the foundation, known as the IF, have been at odds with the city's goals for improving and gentrifying declining pockets of Harbor Boulevard. Costa Mesa offers an array of its own social services through various nonprofits, but city officials have long tried to distance the community from its image as a homeless magnet.

Members of the City Council have said they want to first see that their own residents are taken care of when they fall on hard times, but Costa Mesa should not have to take on cases from other cities.

"I'm supportive of doing our share, but I think it should be our share," Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said. "We have our fair share here, and we're doing what we can to help residents and people in Costa Mesa with a connection to the city. I would not be supportive of us doing homeless housing for the rest of the county."

But those in the trenches see homelessness through a countywide lens that doesn't single out cities.

"We understand they [the city] feel that helping the homeless in Costa Mesa would only attract more homeless to the city," said Paul Leon, who founded the IF program while working as a nurse. "This has been a fundamental disagreement. The Illumination Foundation is a regional program. Unfortunately, homelessness is also [a] regional issue. The homeless are struggling to survive. Most are not paying attention to city lines."

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'My path crossed with Paul Leon'

Illumination started in March 2008 when a co-worker of Leon asked him to track down a homeless man who, after being discharged from the hospital with a catheter, wandered the streets.

Leon found the ruddy-faced man with sand-colored hair at the Armory Emergency Shelter in Santa Ana, catheter and all.

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