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Homeless housing moves forward

April 03, 2013|By Jill Cowan

After years of discussion over "carrots," "sticks" and just about every combination thereof, the Costa Mesa City Council's decision to move forward the development of permanent supportive housing for the city's homeless population came as a "much needed, much prayed for golden carrot," as one local homeless advocate put it.

In a 4-0 vote Tuesday, the council chose Orange County-based Mercy House Living Centers who will work in partnership with San Diego-based nonprofit Wakeland Housing to lead the charge in finding a possible site for supportive housing, then operating the development once it's established.

Mayor Jim Righeimer recused him self from the vote because he sits on Mercy House's board.

Officials said the move was a step in the right direction in Costa Mesa's ongoing — and at times controversial — efforts to take homeless people off its streets.

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Last year, for example, then-Mayor Eric Bever took a hard stance against service providers, saying that they attract homeless people from other cities and calling for the investigation of two prominent local nonprofits.

Since then the city has explored various alternatives to help the city's chronically homeless population and, on the "stick" side of things, discourage them from setting up camp in public areas.

"I believe that a Mercy House project will serve the city of Costa Mesa well," said Churches Consortium Director Becks Heyhoe, who frequently works with homeless service providers. "Home is on the way."

Added Councilwoman Wendy Leece: "It's a great moment in our history to take a big step, as Ms. Heyhoe said, to offer the big carrot."

Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes thanked the council for their leadership on getting the project going.

Wednesday, he said that as a Costa Mesa resident, "I'm proud of my city. I think this is a critical step toward ending Costa Mesa's chronic homelessness."

He added that the project could act as a kind of "catalyst" for changing the way cities throughout the county deal with homelessness.

While choosing developers was certainly a milestone, there are still a number of boxes to check before viable long-term supportive housing for Costa Mesans can become a reality, Muriel Ullman, a city housing consultant who has worked extensively on homeless issues, said Wednesday.

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