In separate conversations with several candidates in the Costa Mesa City Council race, many of them brought up the issue of homelessness. The approach in Costa Mesa, California, of providing permanent housing as a first priority is something candidates hope to continue and expand.
Other proposed approaches include: rolling out new 60-square-foot fiberglass SafeHuts made by a local company; enforcing code—on rules against camping, for example—more stringently; and strengthening the city’s unique Network for Homeless Solutions.
Councilmember John Stephens, the only incumbent in November’s race, told The Epoch Times, “The point of view of a housing-first model is, whatever issue that you’re dealing with, you’re better able to address that issue if you have secure housing.”
He explained that a new temporary shelter that opened in Costa Mesa last year is just a stop on the way to permanent housing; the city has helped more than 160 people who have entered that shelter get into stable homes.
“We have had great success not only with housing people, but keeping them in housing. And that’s very important to us,” he said.
Ten candidates are competing for three seats available in Districts 1, 2, and 6.
In the first quarter of 2021, Stephens, who is running in District 1, said the city will open a 74-bed, 8,000-square-foot homeless shelter. Ideally, this will help with the “uptick in homelessness [due to] the economic fallout [and] COVID,” he said.
Since the pandemic, Stephens estimated the city has helped 50 people find permanent housing.
He said the city’s approach to homelessness is two-pronged: it’s about housing first, and also about bringing together city officials, non-profits, and faith-based groups through the Network for Homeless Solutions (NHS) established in 2012.
The two prongs work together, because the NHS is the vehicle for outreach and coordinating the effort to get the homeless into housing.
However, Jeff Pettis, a nurse manager running in District 6, said the NHS is understaffed. It needs social workers “brought on immediately,” he told The Epoch Times.
‘Compassionate Code Enforcement’
Stephens’s opponent in District 1, business owner Don Harper, said the next step is “compassionate code enforcement.”
“We want our homeless population to accept the services that can get them off the street,” he told The Epoch Times. “But if they continually refuse, we need to apply code enforcement.”
Gary Parkin, a retired electrical engineer who is running in District 2, had a similar sentiment. He told The Epoch Times, “I know, politically, it’s not the greatest thing to say, but the reality is, there’s a lot of homeless people out there that don’t want to go into homeless homes.
“There are a lot who don’t want help [and] you can’t force them. So we have to better enforce some of our laws with the police departments and fire departments on how they handle some of these situations.”
Pettis also said anti-camping laws have to be more rigorously enforced. “It is possible to have an empathetic approach to the issues that face Costa Mesa, at the same time expecting adherence and enforcement of the established laws,” he said.
Retired businessman Lee Ramos, an opponent of Pettis in District 6, told The Epoch Times that even though “Costa Mesa has taken steps to address housing for the homeless, it is a continual daily wave of challenges.”
Ramos said the city should move forward with a permanent plan for housing and be more proactive when it comes to “removing the homeless from our public streets for their health and safety as well as [that of] residents.”
Pettis said the current city council has a “lack of expertise” in substance abuse and mental health disorders, and he would bring that expertise to the council.
“I have functioned professionally for the better part of ten years on [these] issues,” he said. “I have many contacts in the private sector that are involved in high quality rehabilitation for dual-diagnosed people. I have the professional experience and networks available to me to seek meaningful policy solutions.”
In District 2, Ben Chapman, a property management consultant, proposes “a deep dive into the severe mental illness that underlies much of the [homelessness] epidemic,” he told The Epoch Times.
In addition, Chapman wants to explore the possibility of SafeHuts—“simple, durable structures that can serve as temporary living quarters for people in need,” he said.
SafeHuts are created by Newport Beach City Councilmember Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, who is also an inventor and the owner of Duffy Electric Boat Co. Duffield’s partner in the venture, David Ellis, spoke to The Epoch Times earlier this year when they launched SafeHuts: small homes made from the same fiberglass Duffield’s company uses for its boats.
Ellis said the huts cost about $17,000 for the 60-square-foot size, or $23,000 for the 80-square-foot size. He compared it to recent housing built in Los Angeles for the homeless that cost nearly $700,000 per unit.
“Fiberglass is indestructible. It’s stronger than steel,” Ellis said. He called it a “temporary solution that has a 50-year life span. … So we think we have an economically more attractive solution to communities.”
Chapman said of the huts: “I will work to talk up the shed-sized structures to agencies as a better option than a tent or a Tuff Shed tiny house, which some communities have used to get people off the streets. We … have to get some safe places for the homeless people in our communities to figure their lives out.”
Organizational change consultant Jason Komala, running in District 1, did not specifically mention the issue of homelessness in his talk with The Epoch Times, but said his top priorities are the local economy, challenges related to overdevelopment, and public safety.
Some other candidates could not be reached immediately for comment.
District 3 candidate Loren Gameros, a project coordinator, pledges on his website to “tackle homelessness.”
“Leaving folks homeless on the streets is more expensive than permanent supportive housing,” Gameros writes, citing a 2017 study coordinated by Orange County United Way, Jamboree, and UC–Irvine.
“Costa Mesa already plays an active role in the housing-first approach to ending homelessness, and we must continue to promote and expand this proven model,” Gameros says.
Wellness coach Hengameh Abraham, running in District 6, says on her website that she supports “practical solutions for homelessness and sober living homes.”
In addition, her platform includes supporting law enforcement, ensuring fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget, and calling for city council staff reform.
Attorney and planning commissioner Jeffrey Harlan, also running in District 6, does not address homelessness specifically.
On his campaign website, Harlan advocates for investing in Costa Mesa, ensuring public health and safety, devising a plan for citywide growth, tackling traffic and mobility issues, and fighting noise impacts caused by John Wayne Airport.