CATHEDRAL CITY — A candidate for a seat on the City Council in Cathedral City is under attack for a seemingly callous comment he made about homeless people during a candidate forum this week.

Ernesto M. Gutierrez, a conservative candidate and registered Republican, said that homeless people like to be free and make their own rules. He laid blame at the feet of government for the social programs it offers to homeless men, women and children.

“Homelessness is a complex issue and there’s no simple answer,” Gutierrez said during the forum. “The problem is, homeless people do not have to follow rules. They like to be free and they like to make their own rules. The bottom line when it comes to homelessness is that currently our government social benefits provided to homeless people will never stop and allow them to hit rock bottom. Therefore, they will never be ready to rehabilitate.”

As one community leader said, “He is unaware that being homeless is hitting rock bottom.”

As a candidate, Gutierrez also seemed oblivious to the fact that, if elected to the City Council, he would need to address the issue of homelessness in Cathedral City.

Uken Report reached out to Gutierrez to explain or perhaps clarify what he meant. He did not respond.

Councilmember Mark Carnevale, who has served on the Coachella Valley Association of Government’s Homeless Committee for more than three years. This committee, he said, is comprised of “first-class, honorable, local politicians  giving their free time to a serious problem not only in Coachella Valley but in the United States.” Each is 100 percent committed to addressing homelessness.

To that end, Carnevale told Uken Report that he does not agree with candidate Gutierrez’s approach to homelessness.

“As a team we can help in a big way, but letting unfortunate individuals sink deeper is not proactive,” Carnevale said. “This is what America is all about — helping each other.”

As it happens, Carnevale on Thursday was with Cathedral Police Sgt. Nicholas Chapman and Officer Dwayne Hodge, the department’s liaison officer, on outreach.

“We came across some homeless, one was a friend of mine for over 30 years. My family and I actually flew to Hawaii to visit him when he was very successful,” Carnevale said. “My heart sunk to my stomach when I saw him. He has been homeless and on the streets for three years. He received immediate attention. When he ate his lunch at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, he said, “It has been years since I had a sandwich with more meat than bread.”

The vast majority of these homeless men and women did not just need a home. They need opportunity, Carnevale said. Some need drug or alcohol prevention programs, then they need work, training, education, and support services to find it and succeed.

“Most important, they need their self-esteem back. This is the way to help, not let them sink to rock bottom,” Carnevale said. “I believe we should invest our resources. We must work on training, education, and paid employment opportunities that uplift a homeless person’s life, enrich their skills, and lead them to live independently. I believe that just because you are down, you are not out.”

Gutierrez, a real estate broker and developer, is one candidate among four who is vying for a single seat to represent District 4 in the November election.

Gutierrez, 50, is competing with John A. Rivera, Enrique “Rick” Saldivar, and Sergio Espericueta.

District 4 includes Desert Princess Country Club, Outpost and the Dream Homes.