By Jorge Casuso
August 28, 2009 -- Does hiring half a dozen homeless people to help clean up Santa Monica's Downtown fall under the homeless program or maintenance?
The Bayside District Board decided Thursday that hiring the homeless maintenance crew helped to get them off the very streets they cleaned and voted to award a $80,000 contract to Chrysalis, a Santa Monica-based job training and placement agency for homeless individuals.
But not before the board engaged in a heated debate and the board chair voted against a motion he made himself.
"This to me looks like a well-intentioned but misguided effort to grab a pot of money and use it for much needed maintenance," said Board member Todd Flora. "This seems like a convenient pot of money."
"I don't think saying we have a pot of money let's help out someone (Chrysalis) we like" is a good reason to back the program, said Board member Patricia Hoffman. "Chrysalis is a good organization, but so is OPCC and St. Joseph's," she added, referring to two local homeless agencies.
But the majority of the board argued that the proposal was a win-win -- homeless individuals would get steady work and the Bayside would get some much-needed maintenance.
"This is not a maintenance program that takes advantage of homeless people," said Vice Chair John Warfel. "It's the opposite. (Chrysalis) came to us. They have these programs in other cities. This is a make work project."
"My conscience would be very clear if we help 12 people and can see that we changed people's lives," said Board member Allan Golad.
Golad argued that the homeless workers would not only help clean up the streets, they would serve as an example for other homeless individuals they might be able to help.
"They do have a positive influence," Golad said." They interact."
In an unusual twist, Board Chair Bill Tucker made a motion to explore whether there were funds available in the district's $1.2 million annual maintenance budget, then voted against his own motion to support the Chrysalis proposal.
A new property-based assessment district approved by Downtown property owners last year bankrolls a new $3.6 million budget that includes $1.3 million in enhanced maintenance. The budget also sets aside $80,000 to help tackle Bayside's entrenched homeless problem.