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A local resadent, right, talks to two homeless men behind the post office in San Pedro Wednesday, January 24, 2018. Volunteers gathered for the annual homeless count as they did the count in their cars driving by in San Pedro. The local resadent is not part of the volunteers who did the count. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova Daily Breeze/SCNG)

What would you do if you found someone camping in Civic Center Plaza in Manhattan Beach?

In the city of 36,000 residents that recently banned keeping personal property, including tents, in public spaces—the answer might seem obvious.

The upscale community of four square miles is home to 19 transient individuals, according to data released earlier this month by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Although this number, obtained from a single night count this January, is a decrease from the 43 homeless people counted in the city last year, it still paints a picture of an issue without a clear-cut solution.

Currently, Manhattan Beach has no public shelter for those experiencing homelessness. And that seemingly limits the city’s authority to prevent individuals from sleeping on sidewalks unless arrangements for suitable and adequate shelter can be made per a 2018 U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. 

So, other than connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with local resources—the primary function of the city’s Homelessness Task Force—what can Manhattan Beach do to help?

A newly-formed, apolitical citizen organization called MB SAFE, which stands for Safe Alternatives for Everyone, claims to have some answers.

MB SAFE is urging local officials to purchase long-term beds at a shelter in Bell, which would then be reserved for Manhattan Beach homeless, according to the nonprofit's President Lucia La Rosa Ames.

“Our first goal is summon community support for a city budget modification to cover the costs of two long term shelter beds,” said Ames, who is also a member of the city’s Homelessness Task Force.

George Gabriel, a senior analyst and Manhattan Beach's "Homeless Liaison," acknowledged the city is currently coordinating with regional homeless advocates to look into the possibility of purchasing such beds. 

The Salvation Army Bell Shelter is one of the options the city is looking into, he confirmed. 

"City staff have explored and will continue to explore the availability of shelter beds," Gabriel said, noting the beach cities of Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan received a collective $330,665 towards homeless coordination and housing navigation services from Los Angeles County as a result of sales tax increase Measure H

The beds in the city of Bell would be more than a roof for a single night, Ames explained. They would give individuals a guaranteed place to stay, meals, access to case workers and medical professionals while they get their lives on track. 

"You don't change a life unless you can provide a longer term solution and help that person to stabilize enough and make use of available treatments and begin a process that hopefully leads to housing," Ames explained. 

She said money handouts, as well as allowing people to camp out in public are ineffective in solving homelessness and are not respectful of the human dignity.

“The generosity of our community should not be wasted in things that are not effective,” Ames added. “We need real change, not spare change. All other things are Band-Aids and not a real, meaningful solution."  

Ames said MBSAFE—with five official board members and 72 local members on its closed Facebook page thus far—wants to educate the community about real solutions to homelessness.

“These two goals—compassionate, meaningful help for the homeless and protection for the safety of the community are compatible and are both very important,” Ames said.

The 501c nonprofit hosts its first public meeting Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. at American Martyrs Catholic Church. The meeting includes a speech by a formerly homeless woman.

MB SAFE is planning future meetings, but does not have a schedule yet, accoarding to Debbie Van Ness, the MB SAFE Public Communication Chair.

The group is busy creating a web page and newsletter to be circulated through the organization’s email list and plans to host fundraisers for money towards shelter beds, she added. 

“Little by little, we want to get people involved and get some grassroots measure to help,” Ness explained. “The best way to get involved right now is to join the Facebook group.”

MB SAFE may also work with the city's Homelessness Task Force in the future, according to Gabriel—although for now the two entities remain independent. 

For more information or to join the group, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/MBSAFE/.

But, fair warning: be prepared to answer that first question!

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