WHITTIER — The City Council has quashed a controversial plan that would have restricted homeless services to those with ties to the city, but approved 11 other proposals to deal with a perceived influx of transients.
The votes earlier this month followed a debate that has been ongoing since spring, when council members reported receiving increased complaints about people sleeping in doorways, aggressive panhandling and groups of homeless congregating in parks.
Whittier, a city of about 79,000, has an estimated 50 to 100 homeless on any given day. But council members, speculating that the relatively large number of assistance programs might be drawing more homeless into the city, asked the city's Social Services Commission to study the issue and offer recommendations.
The recommendations, which gained preliminary council approval in September, included the "Whittier ties" plan to limit support services to transients who used to have homes in Whittier or are related to residents.
Some residents questioned the legality and fairness of the plan.
City Manager Thomas Mauk said the proposal was dropped because council members felt it was unworkable and may have jeopardized federal funding for homeless services.
However, the council did approve several policies to help the homeless obtain jobs and permanent residences, Mauk said.
Under the new plans, homeless people will be required to work, whenever possible, in exchange for services they receive. The definition of "work" was broad, including helping to maintain shelters and parks, or attending job training and counseling sessions.
A public awareness campaign will be developed to discourage residents from giving money to panhandlers, and the city will adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward illegal behavior, such as public intoxication or aggressive panhandling, by homeless people.
According to the goals, the city will find or create housing for the homeless, lobby for more state funds in areas of mental illness and job training, and try to arrange a regional plan to deal with homelessness.
Mauk said the city's Social Services Commission plans to develop specific plans to implement the changes and report to the council. Currently the city has shelters, food service programs and some shower facilities for the homeless.
Whittier resident Bea Comini, a longtime homeless advocate, said she was pleased with the council's decision to drop the "Whittier ties" requirement.
"It would be difficult for us to say, 'You're a creature of God, but you're on the other side of this line,' " she said. "I wouldn't want to live in a city that would turn away those who are hungry and homeless."
She suggested, however, that some of the council's new policies may be difficult to implement unless the budget is increased.
Most who stay in the shelters contribute to the upkeep, she said, by cleaning or assisting with food preparation.
Staff members try to refer homeless people to other services, she said, but "the treatment facilities aren't out there. There aren't enough detox beds and inexpensive substance abuse programs. And counseling facilities, where would you find those?"