Perhaps best known as a vibrant seaside resort, Laguna Beach is home to about 25,000 permanent residents. Tourism is the primary industry of Laguna Beach, with about 3 million people visiting the city annually.
Despite being a popular resort community, Laguna Beach is also a community in which addressing homelessness has been at the forefront of discussion in the city.
The Battle Over Homelessness in Laguna Beach
Issues surrounding homelessness have been highly contentious in the City of Laguna Beach. In point of fact, the heady debate over homelessness stems back to 2008. In that year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California brought a lawsuit against the City of Laguna Beach.
Prior to the ACLU filing the 2008 lawsuit, the City of Laguna Beach enacted ordinances that made it illegal for homeless people to sleep and camp in public places. A focus of these ordinances was to prevent the rise of homeless encampments in the community.
The ACLU also contended in the lawsuit that the city government was conducting so-called sweeps were designed to target homeless people. The unstated objective was to drive homeless people out of Laguna Beach.
At the heart of the lawsuit was the contention by the ACLA that the City of Laguna Beach criminalized homelessness. The lawsuit was settled within three months.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed to stop undertaking sweeps targeting the homeless population. In addition, the city rescinded the ordinances that made sleeping and camping in public spaces illegal.
The agreement reached between the city and the ACLU was to remain in place until a date certain in 2015. Within a relatively short period of time of that date being reached, the City of Laguna Beach enacted a new ordinance regarding the homeless population of the city. The ACLU was quick to respond.
The ACLU and some other advocates for the homeless population argue that homeless encampments in the city are a direct result of insufficient services and resources. In 2015, the city has become more aggressive in eliminating homeless encampments within Laguna Beach city limits.
Second Lawsuit on Behalf of Homeless People in and Around Laguna Beach
The ACLU filed another lawsuit, yet again contending that the City of Laguna Beach enacted ordinances designed to criminalized homelessness. In addition, the ACLU alleged in the second lawsuit that the city had again started sweeps designed to drive homeless people out of the city. In this second legal action, the ACLU specifically alleged the city was striving to drive out disabled homeless people from the community.
In early 2018, the second lawsuit was settled, although the specific terms have yet to be fully made public. Generally, the settlement again appears to eliminate the criminalization of sleeping and camping in public spaces. In addition, there will be some changes to a policy of the homeless shelter that has given priority to “local” homeless people. The ACLU has argued that the city was trying to build a virtual wall around the community to keep homeless people (particularly disabled homeless individuals) out of the city.
The City of Laguna Beach Defends Its Programming for Homeless People
The City if Laguna Beach took a strong position defending what it was doing to assist homeless people. For example, after the first lawsuit was settled, the City of Laguna Beach added a homeless shelter. Although the shelter has not solved all of the problems associated with homelessness in the city, governmental officials maintain that it has been a significant step. They maintain that the homeless shelter, open the year round and is air-conditioned, provides services – in addition to places to sleep – that include:
- Transportation to the bus depot
In addition, the city hired a caseworker for the shelter. The caseworker helps homeless people find different resources.
The homeless shelter turns away between five and 15 people every night. There is no immediate plan to expand the shelter. On the other hand, there is a discussion of broadening the range of services that will be offered through the shelter. The hope is that an expansion of services will result in more permanent solutions to homelessness in Laguna Beach. The hope is that additional programming will have a more immediate impact on homeless encampments in Laguna Beach.
Homeless Encampment Cleanup in Laguna Beach
One aspect of protecting the community at large, but also those individuals who end up in homeless encampment, is professional homeless encampment cleanup. A shared concern of the city government, residents in neighborhoods where homeless encampments exist, and even the ACLU, has been health hazards associated with homeless encampments.
For example, human waste builds up at the location of homeless encampments. Human waste contains highly dangerous pathogens that can be harmful to homeless encampment residents as well as people living in the surrounding neighborhood. Engaging professional homeless encampment cleanup in Laguna Beach specialists ensure that biohazards are safely eradicated.
Photo Courtesy of Alex Proimos.