Welcome to the Neighborhood
If the Fourth of July fireworks at Tustin High School last week were not enough for you, try coming to this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The topic of discussion, of course, will be the growing community of homeless living next to the Tustin Library. I’d compare it to the tent camp along the Santa Ana Riverbed except it isnt nearly that size – or that filthy.
The camp has become a source of concern, discussion and -in some cases- entertainment on the local website, Nextdoor.com, a sort of local email/blog where anyone can start a discussion on just about anything they like. Over two dozen people have contributed over 300 comments on the homeless encampment alone.
It all started several months ago when the Tustin Branch Library was suddenly shuttered for repairs after suffering massive water damage. Although officials said the water damage was minimal and the library would re-open in a few week, it remains shuttered two and a half months later. The library itself is a county issue and the city has little power to move things along.
Shortly after the closure, a few homeless began hanging out in the area. With no one to bother them, they eventually set up a dozen tents, mostly in the plaza next to the library, and remained low key. With little traffic in the area, they went pretty much unnoticed on a daily basis.
That all changed about a month ago when citizens came, en mass, to the June 20th city council meeting to ask the city what they planned to do about it. The city council listened to concerns but was unable to address the situation because the subject wasn’t on the agenda.
Surprisingly, the city is responding with restraint. City Manager Jeff Parker said that a solution would be to declare the area around the library a city park, allowing police to arrest campers. “But, that doesn’t seem morally appropriate.” We agree, of course, as it won’t solve the problem. The city recently put a “Homelessness” button on the front page of their website.
Tustin has never had a very large homeless population (the staff report pegs it at two dozen). Prior to the library encampment, most of them hung around Peppertree Park and the Old Town area. Closing down the encampment will just push them back onto the streets and into our neighborhoods. The city claims they regularly try to provide comprehensive services but, frankly, most of the homeless camped there (yes, I stopped by and dropped of water on a hot day) are not interested in services or alternatives to their lifestyle.
For the time being, the encampment may be the best way to handle the situation. At the very least, the homeless are pretty much in one location. Concerns over drug and alcohol use are minimal, although arrests for both have been made. The police check the area regularly and, unlike the Santa Ana Riverbed encampment, the place is clean – I daresay, neat and tidy. Some residents have opined that moving them to an industrial area and providing sanitary services would solve the problem. The trouble is, the homeless may not agree. And contrary to what some would like, they can’t just be rounded up and shipped out.
In any case, if you are one of the two dozen or so folks who have made their feelings known on the neighborhood blog, you will have the opportunity to address our city council on the matter this Tuesday at 7pm. You may want to get there early and, if you forget your water, you can probably bum a bottle from one of the homeless camped out back.