With rain hitting the South Coast Monday night — as well a spectacular display of thunder and lightning — homeless people thronged to the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter on Cacique Street only to discover the extra beds normally set aside during rainy weather had not been provided nor had special permission to provide an extra 100 beds been sought. The focus of intense debate in recent weeks, the shelter’s compliance with the terms and conditions of its city permit will be the subject of a special Planning Commission meeting this afternoon. City planners issued a report stating that the shelter is complying with its conditional use permit and are insisting that no action can be taken at Thursday’s showdown. Regardless, the event will provide shelter supporters and critics a venue at which to make their case.
Many nearby business owners — and some councilmembers — are upset that the shelter provides free hot lunches to people not participating in shelter programs. This fact, they contend, has made the shelter an attractive nuisance, drawing an unwanted element to lower Milpas Street in large numbers with all the predictably unhappy results. Shelter director Mike Foley has resisted efforts to curtail the lunch program, arguing that it’s proven highly effective in drawing program-reluctant homeless people into the shelter. Likewise, Foley argued the lunch program addresses “a desperate need,” without which many people would go hungry and, in some cases, die. Foley has vowed to work constructively with neighbors upset by the rise in homeless street crimes that city police associate with the shelter. According to the city report, it appears Foley already has. Whether it’s enough to mollify critics on and off the council has yet to be seen.
In the meantime, City Parks officials are gearing up to install a fence around the Cabrillo Ball Field — a k a Rainbow Park — in response to concern about drug dealing and rampant public intoxication taking place there. A federal grant for $25,000 will pay for the new fence, which has yet to wind its way through all the city’s design review commissions.