Orange County’s plan to build a “continuum of care” program to handle the homeless issue took a significant step forward Monday when the framework of a court settlement was filed in federal court.
The “preliminary settlement terms” outline a plan that would have law enforcement provide options to transients initially, but also warn and ultimately arrest scofflaws who decline services.
County officials pledge to spend as much money as available from state mental health funding and other sources to provide services to move transients into permanent housing.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter would continue to oversee the agreement for three years to arbitrate individual disputes transients might have with county officials and other issues.
What remains unclear is what happens with the various cities throughout the county, many of whom have been negotiating their own settlements with the plaintiffs who filed the suit on behalf of the county’s transients. Some have made more progress than others in achieving goals set by Carter in providing beds for transients in their jurisdictions.
Carter has been prodding the county, cities and plaintiffs to hammer out a settlement because the only authority he has said he has is issuing an injunction that prevents the municipalities from enforcing anti-camping laws unless they can prove they have provided enough beds for the transients in their jurisdiction.
Most of the cities actively engaged in the litigation are in the northern part of the county.
Santa Ana has moved to include all of the county’s cities in the lawsuit, but have not served them while negotiations have been ongoing.
In the settlement agreement, county officials have pledged to “lead the engagement of those indigent homeless individuals inhabiting areas open to the public with Orange County Health Care Agency Outreach and Engagement personnel.”
If transients decline services from the county they “will be given a warning of the alleged violation and notice (constituting at least one full business day after engagement) of their service and shelter options,” according to the proposed settlement.
“After an offer of appropriate placement, a warning, and notice of the need to relocate, and an opportunity to accept the placement or voluntarily relocate, the county may utilize criminal law, including any applicable county ordinances, to effect the person’s removal,” according to the proposed agreement.
These terms, however, will not apply to the Orange County Flood Control District property, John Wayne Airport, county park facilities, county libraries or “other special use properties as agreed upon by the parties,” according to the proposal.
In those places the transients will have the same right of access as anyone else and law enforcement or county officials “where feasible” will provide “indigent homeless persons a warning and an opportunity to vacate the area, before issuing a citation or effecting an arrest.”
Law enforcement will “endeavor, when feasible,” to issue infractions instead of misdemeanors to transients who violate anti-camping ordinances, according to the proposal.
The county will also provide an appeals process for transients denied access to services or terminated from them. The plaintiffs and county officials also agree “a more thorough and detailed notice and grievance review procedure… must be developed and agreed to by the parties.”
Greater efforts will be made to comply with disability requirements as well.
The cost of attorneys fees will be worked out later, according to the proposal.
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