DANA POINT (AP) — A California coastal community is eager to attract more tourists, but at the same time it’s struggling with an unwelcome jump in its homeless population.
Residents and businesses in the Orange County city of Dana Point say they are seeing more homeless encampments and trash, and police are reporting an increase in calls in recent years.
Dozens of residents pleaded with city officials at a meeting this month to get control of the problem.
Homelessness is not new in the seaside city about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles. But residents and business owners told the newspaper they’ve seen the population more than double in the last few years.
The influx has been frustrating for city officials, who are in the midst of a plan to brand the city as a five-star destination to compete for tourism dollars with nearby Laguna Beach.
Homelessness is a longstanding problem across Southern California, in part because of the mild weather.
Dana Point officials note that the city’s hilly topography creates hidden shelters, and a state beach provides a place for the homeless to gather during the day. Another draw is free meals provided daily by a faith-based group.
Mayor Debra Lewis acknowledged the homeless need help, but she added that residents need to feel safe and free from aggressive behavior.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Russ Chilton, who is the city’s police chief, told the newspaper an increase in the number of sober-living homes in the area has created a pool of people who become homeless after they are evicted from the homes.
“A recent shift in the criminal justice system forces us to give low-level drug offenders a ticket. The Affordable Care Act has given people access to drug and alcohol programs contributing to sober-living homes. That was an unintended consequence,” he added.