Hundreds of homeless people living in the Santa Ana riverbed were being notified Wednesday that they must leave by next Tuesday under an agreement between homeless advocates and municipal officials that provides emergency housing elsewhere for the transients.
The notices came one day after a marathon court hearing culminated with the advocates and officials — opposing sides in a lawsuit — working out the framework of an agreement to clear the riverbed of transients.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter led a walk at dawn along the riverbed as signs were posted and notices handed out to the transients. A roadside-type sign with scrolling LED letters was also placed on site, according to Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who was among those along for Carter’s walk of the riverbed Wednesday morning.
“Every 50 to 1,200 feet, there are now signs posted with Judge Carter’s order telling everybody they have to be out by Tuesday,” Spitzer said, adding that Carter spoke with many of the transients personally.
“He was really clear with people about that. He told them we’re going to provide motel vouchers and tents and a place to go, so that’s all covered,” Spitzer said.
Veterans were told they could get help from mental health specialists from the Veterans Administration hospital.
“The county is working in good faith, and I think the judge trusts us,” Spitzer said.
The homeless along the riverbed appeared grateful for the help, Spitzer said.
“They were so appreciative of what (Carter has) done for them,” he said. “The good news to me is that this isn’t going to be caught up in protracted litigation with everyone fighting over legal technicalities and jargon when we all have the same goal — we want people out of there, but treated humanely.”
Spitzer guessed that the county’s efforts to clear the transients out of the riverbed may cost about $1 million.
Carter turned Tuesday’s preliminary injunction hearing into a workshop among attorneys and municipal leaders to find temporary shelter for the riverbed’s homeless and then move them into affordable housing.
He peppered attorneys, advocates and county leaders in the morning with questions about how a solution could be reached for the riverbed encampment before he had to issue a court order. The afternoon was spent with both sides negotiating in private until they developed the framework of a deal by the end of the day.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do told City News Service the county will provide the homeless up to 30 days at a motel to be used as a sort of triage area until more stable housing is found for them. He said in court that as many 400 motel rooms would be made available. The average rate of the motel rooms is $75 to $125 nightly, Orange County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim told reporters.
Beyond the motel rooms, the county can quickly add 32 beds to its homeless center in Anaheim, which still hasn’t fully opened. There is also room at the center’s parking lot to erect tents to provide an additional 60 beds, Do said, adding that a woman’s shelter in Santa Ana can provide about 100 beds for women fleeing domestic violence for 60 to 90 days.
A fleet yard in Orange can also be used to erect a tent to set up 100 beds; and there is room near the Orange County Registrar of Voters’ office on Grand Avenue in Santa Ana for more beds, he said.
In all, the county believes it can provide 700 to 800 more beds, Do said.
The agreement reached Tuesday provides for the county to clear out the river bed encampment by Feb. 20. Anyone staying beyond that risks a trespassing citation.
Carter made it clear to the plaintiffs and defendants in the litigation that he was impatient for a solution to the homeless problem along the riverbed, which has presented problems ranging from environmental hazards to rising crime and an inability of bikers and hikers to use the public trails.
The judge said he wanted to avoid an endless cycle of citing homeless people for trespassing, which would lead to them serving jail time since they couldn’t pay the fine, and then they would return to the riverbed. Worse, he said, was the possibility that the hundreds along the riverbed would flee to surrounding cities, where they would be cited and arrested and again be in the “revolving door of citations.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including several homeless people who live on the riverbed, wanted Carter to block the county and the cities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange from enforcing anti-camping laws along the riverbed and the surrounding cities until alternative housing was found. Last week, Carter granted a temporary restraining order when county officials made it clear to the plaintiffs who brought the suit that they intended to begin enforcing anti- camping and trespass laws along the riverbed.
Orange County Catholic Worker, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, argued that county officials have failed for years to provide affordable housing for the area’s needy and that its homeless shelters are overcrowded.
Orange County officials, however, said they have plenty of beds available. The problem, they said, is that many transients have refused outreach services, choosing to live on the streets rather than abide by the rules at shelters, such as abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
–City News Service
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