LONG BEACH — In what organizers said was the first gathering of its kind in the city, more than 100 representatives of government, business, religion and social service held a stormy meeting last week to initiate what some described as a community approach to the problem of homeless people.
Among the participants was City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who said he would sponsor a resolution calling for creation of a special city task force to deal with the issue.
"I have a deep concern about the homeless in Long Beach," Braude said. "Just drive around and you can see them in the streets. The city should take a stand."
Networking Called Key
Added Clarence Smith, elected to the council last Tuesday to replace the late James Wilson as representative of the city's 6th District, where there is a heavy concentration of the poor: "It's good to see that someone is taking a step in the right direction. Government has a responsibility to provide services (for the homeless). Networking is the key to success."
The conference--sponsored by several local service organizations including the Disabled Resources Center, Jewish Family Service and Travelers Aid Society--was designed to bring together diverse elements of the community to acquaint them with the plight of the homeless in Long Beach and to spur cooperation in attempting to deal with it, organizers said.
Advice From L.A., Ventura
Included in the program were speakers from Los Angeles and Ventura who talked about their experiences with homelessness in those areas, as well as representatives of the business community and social service agencies who conducted a panel discussion on the situation in Long Beach.
"All of us have been working on the problem, but not together," said Tish Cunningham, executive director of the Long Beach Travelers Aid Society. "It's time we developed a cooperative effort to do something. Now is the time to come together to agree on solutions."
Although there are no reliable estimates on the number of homeless in Long Beach, she said, her agency alone assists more than 600 people a month--three times the number of four years ago. Cunningham attributed this to widespread unemployment combined with a general lack of affordable housing. Among those hardest hit in Long Beach, she said, are the mentally and physically disabled, disoriented elderly, runaway teens, unemployed newcomers, military veterans and battered wives.
While there are several shelters already serving the city, she said, there is a real need for emergency funds to offer temporary housing to the increasing overflow of people who can't be accommodated by them.
In addition, she said, community leaders must begin to focus on long-term solutions to the problem such as low-cost apartment housing, cooperative ventures with local businesses to provide employment, and services such as child care to accommodate working or job-seeking parents.
"The only way we can do this is with the support of the business community and city government," Cunningham said. "This is the beginning of a coordinated approach."
Signs of Dissidence
Already, however, there are signs of dissidence among some would-be members of this new coalition. One of the disputes emerged when Sid Soloman, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, challenged panelist Jack Anderson, chairman of the business watch committee of the Downtown Long Beach Associates, to defend his recent support of a proposed ordinance that would prevent the city's homeless from sleeping outdoors from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
"There's a fine line between homelessness and crime," Anderson retorted, arguing that the proposed law would keep "beggars and panhandlers" off the streets, thus enhancing business in downtown Long Beach. "The people in back of my business who are eating, sleeping and defecating on the walls are not the ones who need help."
That comment evoked an angry response from William H. Davis, a physician representing the Long Beach Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who said he has a schizophrenic son who was homeless for 3 1/2 years during which he sometimes survived by panhandling. "This is an ordinance that would be devastatingly bad for the people we want to help," Davis told Anderson.