How the City of Dana Point
Spent Your Money
Shutting Down A Homeless Shelter

By Marc Eric Ely-Chaitlin
Executive President, Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation, Inc.

Olinda Drive Homeless Shelter, DP (1991)
This is the homeless shelter shut down
by Ed Knight, Kit Fox and Angela Duzich

DANA POINT, CA-In 1989 it was estimated by government and non-profit agencies that Orange County had a homeless population of 10,000 individuals per night. It was in December, 1989, that the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit California public charity. Today, in 1998, it is estimated that the number of homeless per night in Orange County is now 15,000. However, those of us who have been close to the crisis all agree that these figures are conservative, because underlying these statistics is the reality that something is seriously wrong with our economy - and our civilization - and admitting to the scale of the homeless crisis will necessitate some fundamental changes that powerful interests would prefer to postpone, regardless of the human and social costs.

In Los Angeles County it is estimated that the homeless crisis is the worst in the country, with 50,000 to 80,000 individuals homeless every night. The reason the homeless are counted on a nightly basis is because of the transient nature of homelessness. Some individuals remain homeless for a night, or a week, or a month, and then find some way off the street, while others just completely fall through the cracks, and never find their way back to a civilized, domesticated lifestyle. Another reason the homeless are counted by nights is because it is at night that they become distinct; at night everyone else is at home, and the homeless are left outside, so that they stand out. Ironically, when the Los Angeles Riots took place, it was estimated that there were about 50,000 people rioting, and the number of homeless is estimated at about 50,000. Additionally, when 3,000 citizens of Los Angeles were subjected to mass arrest for violation of the curfew, following the riot, it was public knowledge that a substantial percentage were homeless people, who had no place to go to avoid arrest.

The average American who relies on the media coverage of the homeless crisis is hopelessly unprepared for the reality of the homeless situation. Many, many homeless individuals and families did everything they were told to do, and lived exemplary lives prior to their becoming homeless. They worked, they paid taxes, and they complained about having to worry about the welfare of their neighbors. In short, they were every bit as obsessed with the illusions of the consumer economy as their more successful, housed countrymen; the only problem that arose was that the ground underneath them changed. The rules of engagement changed, leaving millions of hard-working people to fend for themselves, even though they had performed years of loyal service as dedicated employees and supporters of the Established order. We rarely hear about it now, but millions of people lost their pensions through slick legislative tricks that basically allowed major industries to re-tool using the funds that their employees had collected in pension trust funds. Those that did not lose their pensions through the outright theft committed by the managers, lost their life savings in such debacles as the Savings and Loan scandal, that wiped out so many individuals that some senior citizens committed suicide rather than face life in poverty.

The media associates the symptoms of homelessness with the causes, thereby confusing the American people about who the homeless really are. Anyone who scans media coverage of the homeless crisis over the last 18 years can readily see that it has been portrayed as the bottom of a downhill slide that takes place only to drug addicts, prostitutes and the mentally ill. The fact that one third of the homeless are Veterans who suffer from the side-effects of battle fatigue, is only vaguely inferred, because it implies that the Government may have some responsibility for the Veterans it exploited to win victories in the field, which it then callously threw aside because the costs of dealing with the effects of their wars would make the victories valueless. (The notion that wars are fought for ideology is laughed at in the military circles of all countries, because everyone knows that what armies fight over is the control of natural resources that have strategic and tactical value).

The homeless are the human wreckage of the industrial economy. If the homeless do not start out mentally ill, meaning mental illness is the cause of their homeless state, then they soon start to suffer from the symptoms of mental illness, for the experience of homelessness is utterly terrifying for most middle class Americans. The institutions of the American republican society nurture dependency in individuals, as part of the overall enticement of the consumer lifestyle, offering mild escapism as a substitute for deep soul searching that is natural to human beings. However, when life closes in as it does to the homeless, when every avenue fails and the individual experiences the total collapse of their support systems (family, friends, associates, etc.), escapism takes on the added characteristic of survival, for the individual senses that if he does not fight like an animal to live, he will perish. It is this reduction that takes place that is really significant to the whole human race, because it represents a backwards motion that can only have a retrogressive impact on the human community. The holding and owning of property is only possible in a law-abiding environment, wherein all the people who participate in the society accept and live in accordance to the convention of the private ownership of property. When uncontrollable conditions arise that as an end result, fill the population with wild individuals, who are no longer bound by the civilizing influence of the law because their physical survival has been reduced to the level of animals, it inevitably becomes impossible for the property owning convention to be perpetuated, and all property is endangered. More significantly, of course, is the fact that the breakdown of a law-abiding society ultimately means that the sinews of our entire civilization are disintegrating.

In Dana Point, California, the City Government - acting under the influence and direction of Ed Knight, Kit Fox and Angela Duzich - systematically closed down the one homeless shelter ever built there, using illegal and unconstitutional means. A campaign of terror and intimidation was launched, not only against myself (I have lived in Dana Point since 1972, and have close friends who have lived in Dana Point since the 1950s), but against the helpless homeless clients we tried to help. The City Government spent approximately $20,000 of taxpayer's money not in any attempt to resolve the homeless crisis in Dana Point, but to avoid doing anything to resolve it, in an illegal and unethical conspiracy to shut down the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation shelter on Olinda Drive.

The Orange County Sheriff, acting with implicit instructions from the city, pulled over motorists simply because they had pulled out of the shelter's parking lot, and intimidated the homeless who came for shelter by giving them false information about the shelter, implying that it was illegal, and by seeking shelter there, they would be asking for confrontations with police. Of course, the homeless do not watch the news, they don't understand all the ins and outs of the law, and merely the suggestion of encounters with police - who have never been polite to the homeless in Orange County - is enough to scare them away.

The City Council that declared ipso facto that the shelter was illegal, had it within its power to make it legal, and chose not to do so. The whole issue of legality revolved around the zoning laws, which is where all the real power is located in every city. The organization of the shelter, which represented about 30 emergency beds for an area with a homeless population of around 1500 per night, took place about the time that the population of Dana Point rejected the big plans of the City Planners to "Redevelop" the Lantern District, which essentially would have involved the confiscation of Old Dana Point from the voters who live there, for the enrichment of the real interests that were pushing for redevelopment. (It eventually came out that Ed Knight, Angela Duzich and Kit Fox were all hired for their experience in redevelopment in other southern California towns; and the fact that they still linger on, as public employees, indicates that all plans for redevelopment have not been laid to rest). The evidence that has surfaced since the most recent elections would seem to indicate that the real power behind the City's redevelopment scam is the Chandler family, who are majority owners of the Headlands; their agents have donated to both sides in every election, to guarantee that their interests will always be looked after. Ultimately, as the biggest landowners in the area, the Chandler family has the most to lose, which of course justifies to them their outright efforts to sabotage the democratic process with virtual bribes of public officials. And if one of the only two newspapers that informs citizens of Dana Point happens to be a Chandler family property - the Los Angeles Times - it should surprise no one that the machinations of the Chandler dynasty don't get any in-depth coverage.

In the underhanded campaign to shut down the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation, Inc., Knight, Fox and Duzich employed the whole apparatus of the Planning Department, by putting pressure on the landlord, and by creating an unconstitutional obstacle course that made it impossible BY DESIGN for the non-profit MRMF, Inc. to comply with the demand for a Conditional Use Permit (C.U.P.). The paperwork for the CUP was prepared in less than 30 minutes; but the City demanded a $1900.00 DEPOSIT against the fee before the City would even consider the proposal; and the only exception to this had to be voted on by the City Council. The $1900.00 was not the fee, it was merely the deposit against the fee, which had not even been determined yet! Of course, the City realized that this shelter that survived only because the homeless tenants themselves had to pay rents, could not survive if even the smallest pressure was exerted to force it to close. Knight, Fox and Duzich did everything in their power to exert that pressure, in sleazy underhanded criminal efforts that ranged from death threats left on my answering machine, that was in my family home, and which scared the wits out of my mother and father, to outright intimidating the homeless residents themselves, to whom a small fear fed a great terror.

The real determination to finally shut down the shelter without any real due process took place when the City Council voted on whether or not to grant a waiver of the absurd and illegal $1900 deposit on the fee. The $1900 demanded by Knight, Fox and Duzich was only to open the door, so that the City would look at the proposal; it carried no guarantee that the proposal would be approved. This fact was widely unreported as the newspapers sensationalized the whole issue, playing into the hands of various mentally ill homeless residents who were manipulated by rival non-profits in San Clemente and Laguna Beach, to cause trouble for the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation shelter, from inside. The combination resulted in a flurry of negative press reports, all of which were based on unfounded charges that were never prosecuted, but which were quietly dropped, and which the careless press deliberately failed to notice. Three votes of the Dana Point City Council were needed to grant the waiver, and in the first round of voting, one city councilman had the integrity to vote to grant it, Bill Bammattre, the current Fire Chief of Los Angeles. In the second round of voting two Council members voted for the waiver, and the writing was on the wall that it was just a matter of time before a third joined them, to vote the waiver of the fee, so that the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation shelter project could be examined for its merits. But this second round of voting had a powerful impact on the Planning Department, which had already decided that they were going to shut down the shelter, no matter what the Council vote was. An administrative hearing was organized with an ex-judge as the magistrate, which had no choice but to declare the shelter a PUBLIC NUISANCE! With a waiver within sight, the Planning Department forced the closure of the shelter, at great expense to the taxpayers, and the owner of the property, and after enormous damage to my reputation.

Of course, to the Planning Department the homeless are a nuisance, and the shelter services they require are also a nuisance, so there is no winning for the homeless. Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation, Inc. could have sued the City, but then where would the community be, if it lost $10 million because its officials violated the constitution by denying a non-profit only trying to serve the public interest, of its right to due process? I felt that there had to be a better way to communicate the real need for a shelter than filing a lawsuit and declaring the equivalent of a war on the City, the representatives of the people of Dana Point. The real underlying motivation of City officials was that they did not want to "invite" the homeless of other communities to come to Dana Point by providing services, but what this reveals is a parochial mindset that the homeless are from other places. The truth is that when people are homeless, they tend to go to where the terrain is familiar, which is usually the home-town of the individual. Thus a substantial number of the homeless in Dana Point actually are the sons and daughters of Dana Point, educated in Richard Henry Dana Elementary, and Dana Hills High. And if we let each other down as human beings, what we are doing is we are denying the basic decency that civilizes the human race, and thereby violating the most basic contract we have with each other that elevates us above other animals.

After Knight, Fox and Duzich ran the MRMF shelter on Olinda Drive out-of-town, they ran off four more non-profits, including one that had existed before the City of Dana Point had even been incorporated. In the end, city officials who lived in the area less than five years, forced longtime residents out who had lived in Dana Point their whole lives. There is still a need for a homeless shelter in Dana Point, as there is in neighboring communities, like Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, and San Clemente. If every community had some emergency beds, then we would see an entirely new level of safety evolve on the street. But it is important to understand that "The Street" runs in front of everyone's door. It is that one weak point that everyone is vulnerable to, regardless of social station or wealth, and if there are such imbalances in our civilization that we allow men and women and children to perish from such avoidable causes of death as exposure and starvation, then we can be guaranteed that the street running outside of all of our houses will be that much unsafer. With or without the leadership of the government, Americans have to recognize that the pennies it costs to take care of the homeless crisis is well-worth it. There is something wrong when the President allocates a billion dollars to the homeless crisis, and the crisis remains unresolved, looking for a another billion the following year. That billion dollars is being absorbed by the trillion dollar non-profit industry that won't build a shelter unless it can get it funded by three sources, so that it can pocket most of the money (for "legitimate expenses" of course). I had pleaded with such agencies as ESA and the Friendship Shelter, Inc. to open another shelter. I personally witnessed the human toll homelessness took on people, as a volunteer at ESA and Friendship Shelter for over two years. Both ESA and FSI were actively engaged in behind the scenes intrigues to shut down the Mildred Rose Memorial Foundation shelter, perceiving it as a rival for limited grant monies.

The real benefit to me, however, was discovering how easy it is for a community to come together and create a shelter, so that the care of the poor and helpless is not a burden on any one person or family. I have personally expended over $100,000 in my attempts to help the homeless, and largely due to the 1991 shelter project in Dana Point, my later shelter projects in La Habra and Santa Ana in 1994 were blacklisted by the media; and without media coverage, people do not donate to a non-profit, especially as the fraud that has plagued non-profits became public knowledge. As a result, the media was instrumental in the closure of the Santa Ana House and the La Habra House, even as the media complained that there were too few emergency beds in Orange County. However, when reduced to its nuts and bolts, the cost to run a small homeless shelter (10 persons), is about $10,000 per month, and for a community of 29,000 citizens that amounts to .35 cents a month. Peace of mind has to be worth .35 cents a month.

Finally, in conclusion, I think it is important that we recognize that homelessness is not a partisan issue, to be exploited like a football at a game. Homelessness is a deadly serious issue with grave public safety implications. It should not be taken lightly, but then again, it should also not be viewed as a criminal problem, that can or should be remedied by the construction of yet another prison. The answer to every social problem is not to make it a punishable offense, but to get at the causal factors. In many instances homeless people are outright mentally ill, and as such may pose an uncertain risk to the whole society. Others are harmless if their basic needs are seen to, like a place to bathe or use the toilet. Food to eat; shelter from the rain. It is when people don't have basic needs that they get desperate, and impulsive, and it is at precisely the worst moment that such people snap, and can cause massive destruction, even with the best of intentions. There is an unspoken agreement men have that motivates them to help each other, to come to each other's aid when that aid is genuinely needed. And there is a sense of betrayal that can result when a genuine need is denied, and damages ensue; betrayal that can result in anger, anger that will build until it explodes into a fireball of rage. No one is isolated from anyone else, no matter how much they build up the illusion that they are. Living a trendy lifestyle in an upscale neighborhood does not erect an insurmountable wall that can protect the individual who chooses to ignore the misery of his countryman; it only makes him unprepared to deal with the consequences of history.

MILDRED ROSE MEMORIAL FOUNDATION, INC. is a 501 (c) (3) tax exempt public charity, that is soliciting support for a community based shelter program in Dana Point. All support is needed and invited. For more information, please email Marc Eric Ely-Chaitlin at marceric@worldfreeinternet.us.

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