Mirta Feinberg with Welcome Inn, feeds the homeless at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA on Monday July 24, 2017. “Next week we’ll have more food,” she tells people as food runs out. File photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A homeless man uses chopsticks to eat Chinese food passed out by volunteers with with Welcome Inn at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point on Monday July 24, 2017. (File photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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Wendy Muray waits in a daily food line at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, CA on Monday, July 24, 2017. She grew up in the city and has been “residentially challenged” for four years, she says. (File photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Tommy Waldo and Vicki Williams may not be the stereotypical faces of homelessness but Waldo says he’s been living in his car for about 15 years. Williams, who is 30, says she’s been homeless most of her adult life. They eat food donated by volunteers from Welcome Inn in Dana Point on Monday, July 24, 2017. (File photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
DANA POINT — Results of a two-month study by the city’s Homeless Task Force, along with pressure from the community, has prompted the Dana Point City Council to send a letter asking a faith-based group to stop feeding homeless people at Doheny State Beach, saying the daily practice undermines the city’s efforts to end homelessness.
The letter surfaced publicly during the Tuesday, June 19, City Council meeting after residents reiterated their concern about public safety at the state beach. Residents have urged the city’s police department and, more recently, the Homeless Task Force to encourage the San Clemente-based Welcome Inn, a nonprofit that has served meals to the homeless and working poor in Capistrano Beach since 2008, to stop its daily free food service.
“The city’s desire is for Welcome Inn to stop the feed at Dohney State Beach and instead work with the city and its partners to eliminate homelessness in the Dana Point regional area,” said the City Council letter, dated June 18 and signed by Councilman Paul Wyatt. “The city’s homeless outreach professionals have advised that this activity is not consistent with best practices to achieve ending homelessness and is detrimental to reaching this goal.”
Welcome Inn provides the daily hot meals at Doheny with the help of 400 volunteers from local churches, grocery stores and hospitals. All of the volunteer organizations also received a copy of the letter.
“The city cannot enforce Welcome Inn to end the feed,” Wyatt said. “If all the churches that support Welcome Inn continue to support them after receiving the letter, then the feed is likely to continue.”
In addition to determining the food service is hurting the city’s effort to get the homeless into permanent living situations, the report indicates that two-thirds of the people taking advantage of the meals have criminal backgrounds.
“The data shows what we have suspected all along,” Mayor Rick Viczorek said Wednesday. “Dana Point has focused its efforts on outreach and connections to services for the homeless and others in need. There is a better way to serve people. A hand up is better than a hand out.”
Dana Point has become a destination for homeless people in south Orange County. The city’s hilly topography creates hidden shelters and the industrial area in Capistrano Beach is a popular camping spot — close to Doheny State Beach, which offers a comfortable place to rest during the day, according to city and law enforcement officials.
An increase in the number of sober-living homes in the area also has created a pool of people who become homeless after they are released from the homes and settle in Dana Point, officials have said.
But many in town say the daily meals provided by Welcome Inn is a catalyst for continued homelessness.
Residents, especially those who live in Capistrano Beach, have been pushing city leaders to stop the feeding program saying that Welcome Inn enables homelessness by providing food without linking it to services. Instead, they suggested the volunteers work toward housing solutions with the city’s Homeless Task Force, Family Assistance Ministries and Mercy House. Earlier this year, residents packed meetings held by the task force to drive their point home.
Welcome Inn officials have said the group is focused on providing the hot meals to the area’s working poor.
Prompted in part by community outrage, Wyatt and members of the task force decided to take a firsthand look. In April, they sent care coordinators from the city to observe the food program. They were accompanied by deputies.
Officials determined that an average of 34 people get free food daily. Of these, 67 percent were known criminals, 20 percent were working poor and 13 percent were homeless people unknown to law enforcement, Wyatt said.
“Once we determined the actual situation and had enough data to be sure we were correct, I decided to send the letter and to copy the organizations supporting the feed,” Wyatt said.
On Tuesday, Don Lemly, president of the board at Welcome Inn, reiterated to the City Council that his group serves three distinct groups, which he characterized as the short-term temporary un-sheltered, the working poor and the chronically homeless. Providing the daily meals, he said, gives some a chance to stretch their budgets and use funds to seek permanent shelter.
“IHope (a local resource for homeless families) comes to our dinner service to connect with and help get people off the streets,” Lemy said. “We’ve subsidized rent for former homeless and work with Family Assistance Ministries to identify those that are most in danger of becoming homeless. I know we are the most obvious group and have become the focus for the frustration. We would like nothing more than to show up to serve food and there’s no one there cause they’ve all been taken care of.”
Following receipt of the letter, Kathy Lemly, volunteer coordinator for Welcome Inn, questioned the report’s data on criminal background.
“Does this mean someone who’s been given a ticket for sleeping in public, littered or walked against a red light?” she asked. “I’ve worked with these people many times and have never felt threatened.”
For Toni Nelson, who heads up Capo Cares, a community group in Capistrano Beach, the city’s letter is a step in the right direction.
“I sent a letter months ago to Welcome Inn and asked them to find other ways to feed or serve but they refused to consider phasing out,” she said. “We were planning to ask for an official request but (the city) just did it, likely based on police observations.”
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