Members of the Long Beach Fire Department's HEART Team speaking to a homeless man seated on the sidewalk. Photo: Michaela Kwoka-Coleman
After an uptick in complaints from residents regarding crimes being committed by alleged homeless persons throughout the city the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to initiate a study that would include a collaborative effort by city departments to assess its future citywide strategy to address both homelessness and how it affects residential quality of life.
The item was introduced by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price who represents the city’s southeast area, which, along with other portions of the city, has received an uptick in reports of homeless activity. Price’s item called for data from the city’s health, police, fire and public works departments to work in conjunction with neighborhood groups, business improvement districts and even the city’s technology department to coordinate its resources to better combat the issue.
“Long Beach has been making major strides to address homelessness citywide and this item requests more information on how those successes can be expanded as well as how more departments can play a bigger role in minimizing the quality of life concerns felt daily by Long Beach residents,” Price said in a statement issued by her office late last week.
“Everyday there are quality of life concerns in our communities that are going unaddressed, so it is essential that we acknowledge the reality that homelessness has effects in our communities and find ways to not only help those suffering from homelessness but also help those residential and business areas that are impacted by homelessness.”
An online petition started by Rebecca Cringean, a resident of Alamitos, states that residents of communities including Belmont Shore, Alamitos and Belmont Heights, Naples, the Peninsula and Park Estates have become the victims of an increasing population of homeless persons in those neighborhoods.
At the time of the council’s discussion last night nearly 1,300 people had signed the petition claiming a variety of quality of life issues that have resulted from a reported increase of homeless persons in those specific neighborhoods. The claims range from auto and home burglaries to public nuisance including allegations that some people have been seen using drugs or defecating in public.
“I no longer feel safe in my home. I am literally looking out the window every time I hear any noise and it’s causing insomnia,” wrote one anonymous commenter on the petition’s page. “Something needs to be done now.”
One person identifying themselves as “Deborah A.” claimed that a transient had exposed himself in the process of urinating on their front door. They said the same person continues to access their backyard but “they say they [the city] can’t do anything about it.”
“There should be some catch and release program,” Deborah wrote. “Catch the homeless and release them on some deserted [SIC] island. This guy's been doing nothing but cause trouble around here.”
A commenter posting under the name “Kathleen H.” offered a more measured commentary on the struggles their neighborhood has experienced.
“First and foremost the homeless and mentally ill need to be taken care of and should not be wandering the streets alone and helpless. Second, their presence in our neighborhoods and shopping areas create fear, suspicion and defensiveness for those of us who live here,” Kathleen wrote. “There are so many homeless around Long Beach, and it does lessen the value of the area. We aren't heartless, but we are afraid of the repercussions of having so many homeless around our area.”
The item was not heard until late in the night due to previous hearings eating up the first few hours of Tuesday night’s meeting. A large contingent of people who signed the petition were gathered at city hall but by the time the item was open to public comment just a handful of people were present to reiterate the points made on the petition’s website.
Price’s Chief of Staff Jack Cunningham said that the item and the petition were not directly related but the office did reach out to organizers of the petition to attend to have their voices heard on the matter.
Cunningham, who's worked for Price for the past two years, said that the problem has steadily grown and has become the number one issue her office fields calls on with the complaints ranging from people camping on the beach after hours, trash being abandoned in public space to public urination and panhandling outside of businesses.
“There’s a significant problem and we’re trying to figure out ways of addressing it,” Cunningham said. “If residents are continuously concerned about something then we’re not doing our due diligence if we don’t try to find any solutions.”
He suggested that some of those solutions could be borrowed from other cities. Cunningham pointed to Albuquerque, New Mexico which has its public works department partner with non-profits to invite homeless people to participate in projects like graffiti removal or trash pick up as a means of earning money. Or New York, where a centralized database has been created to track how city resources are utilized on homeless services.
There was some reservation among the council that such a comprehensive study could come back in the 120-day window Price requested. First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez noted that a separate homeless initiative item she pushed asked for a 12-month time frame for its completion.
“I think 120 days may be unrealistic, but I think that based on what I’ve heard we’ve already done a lot of this stuff,” Price said regarding the proposed study. “I would say ‘as soon as possible.’”
The countywide ballot Measure H that was approved by voters in March which established a quarter-cent sales tax increase over the next 10 years to help fund homeless initiatives could dramatically increase the city’s efforts to combat the rising crisis once those dollars start flowing in. The tax is projected to create $350 million annually over that timespan with cities like Long Beach, which were already at the cap for allowable sales tax prior to its passage, standing to benefit from it without contributing to its funds for the entire 10-year timeframe.
The funding increase could help reach the goals outlined by Price in the agenda item including a focus on long-term solutions for the homeless, better connecting them with city and county resources and the development of a more robust city effort to tackle the issue.