When Belmont Shore resident Barry Vince organized a march to “take back” his neighborhood from crime, he never expected harsh criticism and accusations that he was unfairly targeting homeless people.

“We just felt that crime was getting worse and not enough was being done,” he said.

The controversial Nov. 7 march down Second Street triggered heated debates over the homeless issue in Long Beach and drew a throng of protesters calling for human rights and rent control.

Vince said he has since “learned a lot” about what the city and police are doing to help homeless and prevent crime. And on a positive note, he said, he’s glad the march has sparked community dialog.

On Wednesday, Vince; along with Stefan Borst-Censullo, a march protestor and member of the Democratic Socialists of America; and 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price debated the homeless issue at the Beer & Politics event at Liberation Brewing Co. 

The debate at times was lively and heated as it touched on topics including rising housing costs, rent control, substance abuse and mental health resources.

Price, whose district includes Belmont Shore, said she was blindsided when she learned on Facebook of Vince’s plans for the march. Homelessness, she said, is a complex issue that requires compassion and longterm solutions.

“Sometimes I hear from residents that if we just harass people enough they’ll get up and move. Well, where are they going to go?” she said. “Moving people along and harassing them is not a long-term solution, nor is it legal, nor is it humane.”

Borst-Censullo, a local criminal defense lawyer, said the city’s lack of affordable housing and failure to adopt rent control has been the real cause of an increase in homelessness. The homeless have been unfairly criminalized, he said.

“Homelessness is the consequence of the city’s housing policies,” he said. 

Price, an Orange County prosecutor who staffs the county’s drug court program, disagreed that affordable housing is the main problem. She said cities and counties need substance abuse programs with incentives for treatment, better infrastructure for mental health and more community outreach.

“Investments in additional outreach officers is a way for us to make a dent in the issue and really help people change their lives,” she said.

Tension was high at one point when Vince was asked why he “liked” a Facebook comment from someone suggesting that people bring “bodybags” to the march. Vince apologized and acknowledged that some of the comments got “out of control,” but he said he’s not “backing down” on fighting against crime in the neighborhood.

“People that are robbing stuff and stealing stuff need to go to jail,” he said.

Price said the city is pushing forward on its efforts and every year has added more money to its outreach programs. The city is now searching for a location for a permanent homeless shelter and should make progress over the next four months, she said.

The location is a challenge, she added, but the city is eyeing some options.

“As you know, everyone wants a homeless shelter in their city, but nobody wants it in their neighborhood,” she said.

Beer & Politics is a monthly event featuring discussions on city issues at Liberation Brewing Co., 3630 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach.

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