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Costa Mesa homeless population program begins

May 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The city of Costa Mesa is taking a novel approach to the problem of homelessness through a combination of law enforcement and charity.

Costa Mesa officials estimate there are about 80 to 100 homeless people in the city.

John Cook is moving on after three years living on the streets. He's leaving Costa Mesa to be reunited with his brother in Colorado.

"This is such a blessing. I can't wait to see my brother. It's been a while and it will be so nice to see him and be around him. I haven't been around family for a while," said Cook.

Cook, 42, was about to catch a flight paid for by donations through a team of churches called the Churches Consortium after Cook asked for help.

"We spent a lot of time talking with his brother, a lot of time talking with John, making sure that this was going to be something that was good for him, ensuring that he wouldn't be homeless in Colorado if we got him there," said Becks Heyhoe, Churches Consortium.

The new reconnection program is part of an initiative involving the city of Costa Mesa, police and the Churches Consortium. They were brought together a year ago to try to reduce homelessness.

"The idea is to do this carrot-and-stick approach. So we'll give you the services, we'll help you out as much as we can. But you need to obey the law, and if you don't, we will come after you, and we'll do it not just with a ticket, but we'll try to get you some jail time," said Bill Lobdell, city of Costa Mesa spokesman.

City officials say if someone doesn't follow the law, police are handing out not just a ticket, but jail time.

Through the new approach the Churches Consortium also offers a spot where someone can sign up to use a bin to store possessions. That's something Marc Gilio uses. He says not everyone knows what's available.

"The help is there but not enough is getting out to the everyday person who's found himself temporarily de-housed," said Gilio.

The city admits it takes time to win people's trust to reach those who want help.

"We've gotten about a dozen people help," said Lobdell. "It's a slow process because you have got to establish relationships. Just by nature they're not very trusting people."

Cook is grateful to take the next step. "Orange County's got a lot of good people," said Cook.

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