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Mailbag: Deaths should 'touch the conscience' of us all

January 24, 2013

The insightful letter by Tom Peterson in today's Daily Pilot ("Mailbag: Costa Mesa homeless deserve dignity," Jan. 23) pricked my conscience and reminded me I should comment also.

In my more than 23 years of association with homeless people in my work at Share Our Selves (SOS), I found our city often had trouble identifying them as fellow human beings deserving of our attention. In 1993, SOS was evicted from its location at Rea Center by the City Council, which felt SOS was a magnet drawing many undesirables, i.e. homeless, into our city. Even though many homeless people we served were born in Costa Mesa or were long-term residents, they were always called "transients" by city officials. The Someone Cares Soup Kitchen seems to be the target these days.

The recent formation of a committee to study the problem of homelessness in Costa Mesa was very encouraging. However, I question many of their recommendations, which seemed more concerned with making the city environment more pleasant, rather focusing on the needs of the homeless.

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Some positive efforts — storage and shower facilities provided by churches, transport to the armory and hiring a social worker to provide referrals to services, mostly out of the city, — were counterbalanced by punitive actions limiting where bicycles can be kept, where people can rest or sleep, tearing down the structure at Lions Park, etc.

These actions seem to show Costa Mesa still doesn't realize, or recognize, that what is needed to really help solve the "homeless problem" is housing — a decent place to actually live. For years, Costa Mesa housing advocates have tried to persuade our city to provide housing for very-low-income people, and have pointed out that city housing elements required by state law demand that a city at least designate a site where a shelter can be established in the city.

The deaths of two people who had no shelter from the cold in Costa Mesa should touch the conscience of us all and challenge us to find real solutions. There are many reasons for being homeless, and numerous and varied solutions are needed, but housing is a vital component that is mostly overlooked. I think Costa Mesa has a legal obligation, as well as a moral one, to start working on providing affordable housing for those who need it most.

Jean Forbath

Costa Mesa

The writer helped found Share Our Selves (SOS) and is a Save Our Youth (SOY) board member.

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Chip in, Newport Beach

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