Is a homeless shelter feasible?

A NEW REPORT on options to address the problem of homelessness was ordered by the Westminster City Council on Wednesday night (Flickr/Hajee).

By Jim Tortolano

Frustrated by the seeming lack of progress in reducing the problem of homelessness in the community, the Westminster City Council voted Wednesday night to direct staff to prepare “feasible options” for getting better results.

Among the alternatives discussed most prominently was the creation of an emergency shelter, perhaps in partnership with Garden Grove.

“There’s no magic pill,” said Councilmember Carlos Manzo (District 2). “We’re not going to fix it. But we have to try to impact it as much as possible.”

Community Development Director Alexa Smittle echoed that frustration. “There is no magic [solution] for this,” she said. “Staff has talked repeatedly talked to our neighbors about partnerships, we’ve reached out to providers, we’ve tried to buy beds, we’ve explored motel conversions. We really continue to pound the payment on this issue.”

Westminster, like Garden Grove, does not have a shelter for the unhoused. The coronavirus pandemic has made the problem worse, as the need for social distancing has decreased the available capacity of shelters. Additionally, some city shelters will not accept clients who do not have a direct connection with that city as a recent or former resident.

Christine Cordon, who on Wednesday night was promoted from acting city manager to interim city manager, told the council, “There is no obvious solution to this problem.” Principal among the issues are location and the amount of money available, especially in creating partnerships with adjoining cities. “Which comes first? It’s like a chicken or egg situation.”

She suggested that the council wait until after a planned study session on use of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding that could provide more details about how much money might be available the city’s share of such a partnership.

“We need to come to the table with something,” she said.

It’s estimated that a shelter with 75 to 100 beds would have an annual operating cost of $1.8 million.

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