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Laguna considers homeless shelter

October 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Laguna Beach City Council takes up a plan to shelter the homeless at night, after widespread complaints about homeless people living in public areas. A new temporary shelter would be part of the solution.Phil Ruiz works on an art project in Heisler Park overlooking the ocean. It's his home after he lost his job a year ago. The 48-year-old is among nearly 100 people in Laguna Beach who live in the parks or on the beach. He doesn't think much of a plan for a temporary homeless sleeping shelter that city council votes on Tuesday night.

"I don't think it's really going to help anybody," said Ruiz.

The shelter would be nestled in a parking lot a couple of miles from the beach along Laguna Canyon Road. It would cost more than $200,000.

If approved, the temporary shelter would have room for up to 50 people. There would be portable toilets, picnic tables and cots or mats. People could catch a shuttle to the shelter, which would open at 6:30 p.m. and close the next morning at 7:30.

"I think it would be a good thing," said Lou Kruse, who is homeless. "I think they need to get it open."

Officials say the number of homeless in the city has doubled over the past year.

Some residents and visitors have complained they're hesitant to go to the public restroom with homeless people living nearby.

"It's not safe," said Laguna Beach resident Thomas Kemp. "My son is 12 years old. I have to take him to the bathroom. I shouldn't have to do that."

They city had tried to enforce illegal camping ordinances. Last December the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city, so authorities have not been able to stop homeless people from sleeping in public areas. The ACLU argued the law was unfair since there was no other place to sleep.

"We're looking for an alternative spot so they can be housed there and by doing that, we're re-opening our beaches and parks to tourists and locals," said Laguna Beach Mayor Kelly Boyd.

Phil Ruiz says the shelter doesn't solve the problem of homelessness, it only hides it temporarily.

"In the morning, they'll get out and come right back here to the park," said Ruiz.

If approved, the shelter could open in a month and run until June when summer traffic takes over the space. Officials would then have to find a permanent location.

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