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Council to Open Shelter for Homeless : Santa Monica: The 6-0 vote is an attempt to comply with a state court ruling requiring cities to provide an alternative before banning sleeping in parks.

March 31, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Santa Monica City Council has decided to open a temporary homeless shelter for more than 100 people as a prelude to evicting transients who live in the city's parks.

In its 6-0 vote Tuesday, the council acted on the advice of new City Atty. Marsha Jones Moutrie, who said such a shelter was needed to comply with a recent state Court of Appeal ruling. The ruling, in a Santa Ana case, says a city cannot legally ban sleeping in all public places without providing an alternative place to sleep.

Though the site has not been selected, City Manager John Jalili recommended a city-owned building at 502 Colorado Ave. that houses a shower and locker facility for the homeless. Another site mentioned was city-owned property at Olympic Boulevard and 5th Street.

City staff members agreed to draft a plan within a month to open the makeshift shelter as soon as possible. But council members made it clear that the shelter will be opened on a temporary, trial basis.

"I'm perfectly willing to abandon this approach if it becomes another horror story," Councilman Paul Rosenstein said.

Launching a counterpunch, attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild have informed the city that they will pursue a dormant lawsuit challenging Santa Monica's encampment law, which bans living in parks. That law has never been enforced pending the outcome of the Santa Ana case.

Executive Director James Lafferty said in an interview that opening a shelter is not enough to comply with the Santa Ana decision because once the shelter is filled, there will still be homeless people with no place to go.

During a break in the council meeting, Lafferty was accosted by several residents who were not receptive when he told them that in cracking down on the homeless, the city will be violating their constitutional rights.

One man, who refused to provide his name, yelled: "I'm not going to let them sleep in our parks!"

Lafferty replied, "I'm not going to let you not let them sleep in the parks."

The council's action was prompted by a series of proposals, offered last week by Council members Asha Greenberg and Robert T. Holbrook, who represent yet another effort by city leaders to address the city's homeless problems.

At a council meeting last week, residents accused the council of dereliction of duty, asserting that in not cracking down on the homeless, the city has failed to protect the public's health and safety.

Greenberg and Holbrook said that since last week's meeting, they have received about two dozen phone calls and letters supporting their efforts--a response, they say, that reflects widespread dissatisfaction with the city's handling of homelessness. Although initially resistant to the proposals, the council majority elected on a rent control slate embraced most of them Tuesday. The exception was Mayor Judy Abdo, who was out of town.

"I think they read the public," Holbrook said. "Council members who play with this run the risk of losing their job."

Holbrook said it is "absolutely unacceptable" that one-third of all calls to police involve homeless-related problems.

Although 27 people, many of them homeless, wanted to speak about the issue Tuesday night, the council stuck with its prior decision not to reopen public testimony on the matter. Some, however, waited until after midnight to speak during the public comment period.

"You're demonizing the homeless people, criminalizing . . . everything they do to survive," said Marguerite Waller, a Santa Monica resident and university professor.

Besides ordering a new shelter, council members directed the city attorney to write a law prohibiting aggressive panhandling, which is already illegal under a vaguely worded state statute. They also agreed that Moutrie should research the legality of banning panhandling after dark and 24 hours a day on the Third Street Promenade.

Other new strategies under discussion include requiring a business license for groups that serve food in public parks and adjusting homeless services to emphasize long-term solutions rather than emergency help.

The council also voted to cooperate with the California Grocers Assn., which has included Santa Monica in a program to retrieve stolen shopping carts.

Meanwhile, in a finding that appears to contradict earlier estimates that thousands of homeless people roam Santa Monica on any given day, the city manager reported finding only 130 people sleeping in all the city's parks over the weekend.

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