Advocates Watch San Clemente as Temporary Homeless Shelter Talks Continue

OC’s first authorized homeless encampment is no answer for cities’ unsheltered homeless population.

By: Vicky Nguyen
June 20, 2019 —

It has been a few weeks since the homeless people living in a North Beach parking lot in San Clemente were moved to the city’s maintenance services yard on 380 Avenida Pico. One of the first people to volunteer to move was 63-year-old Steve Gustafson. 

The move was due to an urgency ordinance passed by the San Clemente City Council in May which made prohibited camping on public property and addressed immediate threats to public safety, health and welfare. Without the ordinance, law enforcement officers would not be able to cite people for camping because there is not a shelter bed available for them.

The city’s new designated camping area is a 1/3-acre parcel, outfitted with fencing around the perimeter, security cameras and lighting. There is also a security guard on-site. 

Gustafson, who says he’s been homeless for the last three years, is staying in a designated spot inside the site. Unlike his neighbors who are staying in tents, he made his sleeping quarters out of trash he collected because he says he can’t afford a tent. 


“I never expected to become homeless and once I was, I had to learn how to live that way,” said Gustafson, who became homeless in 2016. 


“I never expected to become homeless and once I was, I had to learn how to live that way,” said Gustafson, who became homeless in 2016. 

Gustafson, a former Whittier resident, says prior to becoming homeless, he made and sold his own surfboards and worked as a plumber while he lived in San Clemente for a few years. He became homeless after he developed three hernias which made it difficult for him to work, walk long distances and stand for long periods of time. Gustafson recently had surgery and is planning to have another surgery next month. 

“I didn’t come here to enjoy the beach anyway. I’m injured and I have to have surgery before I can go to work and I totally intend to get a home again once I can work,” said Gustafson. 

Currently, the City of San Clemente is researching and reviewing costs that it might take on if it builds a temporary shelter. While the city is going over its options, homeless advocates and attorneys representing unsheltered clients are keeping an eye on San Clemente and other cities in Orange County to ensure that homeless peoples’ constitutional rights are not being violated. 

“We’ve seen in many cities and towns this common theme of ‘not in my back yard,’ but we’ve never seen the type of rage toward extreme poverty and toward the unsheltered communities that we see in San Clemente for people who are from there who lost their housing and who are just desperate for their community to help them survive,” said Brooke Weitzman, an attorney representing the homeless clients and co-founder of the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center. 

According to the 2019 Point in Time Count, which is a federally mandated biennial homeless population headcount, there are 145 homeless people in San Clemente and nearly 100 of them sleep outside.

“The long-term solution is approving housing projects and developing housing in a way that’s really going to meet the need and stop the homeless community from expanding and start solving the crisis,” said Weitzman.

As for Gustafson, he’s thankful to be staying at a place where he can recuperate from his last surgery. He hopes to get back on his feet and find a home for him and his dog, Apearl. 

This article courtesy of Spectrum News 1


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