Boxed in.
Boxed in.
Photo by Hulagway

OC Cities Fail to Crack 10 Meanest List, Must Try Harder

No Orange County cities cracked the top 10 Meanest Cities list included in a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless. But Laguna Beach, Santa Ana (by way of Dana Point) and just-beyond-our-reach Long Beach were singled out for giving it a good try.

According to "Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities," which researches laws and practices in 273 cities across the country, the 10 Meanest Cities in 2009 are:

1. Los Angeles
2. St. Petersburg, FL
3. Orlando, FL
4. Atlanta, GA
5. Gainesville, FL
6. Kalamazoo, MI
7. San Francisco
8. Honolulu, HI
9. Bradenton, FL
10. Berkeley

A previous report, released in 2006, had ranked Los Angeles No. 18, but an uptick in criminalization of homelessness and poverty propelled the City of Angels to the numero uno meanest. Read the full report here.

And the hits keep coming: the ACLU of Southern California and the Munger, Tolles & Olson law firm, on behalf of certain homeless people suffering from mental and physical disabilities, today filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles against the nearby city of Santa Monica for "violating the constitutional rights of chronically homeless people by arresting and harassing them even though the city lacks sufficient shelter space for these homeless persons to sleep." Guess who's now poised to knock LA off the top of the list in 2010?

Or perhaps Laguna, SanTana or the LBC will step up? "Homes Not Handcuffs" has something to say, good and bad, about each local/almost local town.
Laguna Beach, CA

In March 2007, the city formed a homeless task force to come up with solutions to the
homelessness problem in the city.  One recommendation from the task force was to build
a multi-service center to provide outreach, case management services, emergency shelter,
and detoxification services. Although the city has approved funds to carry out the
recommendation, the city has been unable to find a suitable location for the center.

Laguna Beach also has a new community outreach officer, whose position was created as
part of the city's efforts to reduce complaints from residents and business owners about
homeless people. According to the
Los Angeles Times, Officer Jason Farris said, "[y]ou
can't force them into getting off the street. ... It's not a crime for them to be homeless." 
He hopes to persuade Laguna Beach's homeless population to seek services. The city is
also drafting numerous recommendations regarding how to move chronically homeless
people off the streets. Homelessness is not only a concern to city officials; in 2008,
Laguna Beach residents voted homelessness as the second most pressing issue in town.

Despite its efforts to find solutions to homelessness, problems persist with police
harassment of homeless individuals. In December 2008, the ACLU filed a lawsuit
against the city on behalf of five homeless individuals to challenge the city's anti-camping
ordinance and selective targeting and harassment of homeless individuals by police. The
complaint highlights a range of conduct by the local police department that prohibits
homeless individuals from carrying out their daily activities, including the criminalization
of sleeping in public places, selective enforcement of local ordinances and laws,
unwarranted stops and interrogations, and confiscation of property.

Santa Ana, CA

In May 2008, members of Welcome INN (Interfaith Needs Network) filed a lawsuit
against the state parks department after the group was threatened with citations if they
continued sharing food with homeless individuals in a picnic area in Dana Point Park. 
Park rangers who contended that the group was engaging in unlawful assembly had
approached the group. Officials argued that a public recreation area is not an appropriate
place for sharing food with homeless people.

The state parks department settled the lawsuit with Welcome INN in September 2008. 
As a result of the settlement, the group can continue sharing food at the state beach and
the state is to pay attorneys' fees.

Long Beach, CA

The pastor, Reverend Stinson, and the congregation of the First Congregational Church
of Long Beach, have refused to block homeless people from sleeping outside of their
church. According to the
Long Beach Press Telegram, the city prosecutor, Sayge
Castillo, had threatened to fine the church $1,000 for allowing homeless individuals to
sleep on the property.
The LA Times reported that the pastor said, "The city's threats
are ludicrous. We're not going to do what they want us to do. Allowing these people to
sleep on our property is, for us, a religious act." Castillo says her office is "complaint-
driven" by anonymous callers who complain about waste, litter, and safety issues, adding
that, "I didn't intend for this to be about homeless people."

According to KTLA, a local news affiliate, many residents in the area are not sure how to
feel about the people sleeping on the church's property. Although many would prefer
that homeless individuals were not in their neighborhood, they also understand the
church's commitment and responsibility to helping those who are less fortunate. 
Additionally, the church claims that the complaints of Long Beach residents are
unwarranted because there have been no crimes and church custodians keep the area
clean. Reverend Stinson is hoping to install a portable bathroom for its guests to use. 
The church also invites mental health workers to visit and help those who need the care.

The pastor and congregation are using this opportunity to educate the public about the
lack of shelter space and mental health care available to the people who have been
sleeping at the church for more than three years.


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