Orange County's largest homeless camp cleared out

Last September I wrote about a homeless camp which had grown up along the bike path which stretches along the Santa Ana River in Orange County, California. Residents in the area complained about trash, human waste, and crime. People living in the camps were constantly in fear of violence from those nearby, many of whom have substance abuse or mental health problems. Last week, after a lengthy legal battle involving the ACLU, a judge ruled that Orange County could begin to clear out the camps so long as people were given a place to go. Fox News reports:

Trash trucks and contractors in hazmat gear have descended on the camp and so far removed 250 tons of trash, 1,100 pounds of human waste and 5,000 hypodermic needles.

But the effort hasn’t been without controversy as homeless advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal judge have all weighed in on the fate of some-700 people evicted from their home along the Santa Ana River — next to Angel Stadium of Anaheim and a few miles from Disneyland, outside Los Angeles.

Spitzer, whose district includes the encampment, has battled the advocates since last fall when the decision was first made to close the camp. The ACLU and others filed a federal civil rights lawsuit to stop this and several stays have ensued until last week, when the final go-ahead was granted.

For those being evicted, a mediation with U.S. District Court Judge David Carter offered the choice of a bed in a shelter or a month-long motel voucher; medical aid; drug treatment; job training; storage for their belongings and housing for pets at the county animal shelter.

So far, 544 people have been moved to shelters and motel rooms and approximately 100 remain at the riverbed. Crews counted 207 tents, but it is unclear if they are occupied.

The LA Times reported the offer of free vouchers for motels and food attracted people from other areas who were looking for a handout:

As word spread about motel vouchers, homeless people from different parts of Southern California began streaming in, trying to get their names on a waiting list.

“We know there are new faces and they’re exploiting the goodness of the county. But we know who’s been here because we have inventory,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

County Chief Executive Frank Kim said county workers are familiar with the people who have called the riverbed home. But that hasn’t stopped new people from arriving, he said.

“Just yesterday, I was out here and people would open up their cars and a bunch of other people would step out with their sleeping bags, looking for a motel voucher,” Kim said. “We want to be clear that vouchers are being offered only to the riverbed residents. But we will work with all the homeless to help connect them to other services they need.”

But for the people who had been living in the camp, this seems to have been a positive step. As I pointed out last year, there are reports of fights and even rapes taking place at this camp. Drug dealers, who move in to profit from the people with substance abuse problems, discourage anyone calling the police so most crimes aren’t reported.

Alice Simpson, 57, originally from Alabama, said she was “thrilled to get into safety.” She stood in the shade of a tree, counting down the minutes until transportation arrived to take her to the Bridges at Kraemer Place, a county-run shelter in Anaheim.

“I’m very comfortable with this move and I want to go in without fear,” said Simpson, who has been diagnosed with symptoms associated with schizophrenia. “I have been living in fear at this camp and the person I call my best friend is 911. Maybe that will change now.”

Now the people who live near this camp won’t have to deal with the problems it creates and the bike path can become a community asset for recreation again. The problem, of course, is that all of this is going to cost money. There are an estimated 5,000 homeless people in Orange County, but that’s a fraction of the number in nearby areas, including Los Angeles. This effort to deal with a problem has now created a cleared out campsite along the river which hundreds of homeless people from LA could descend on and inhabit.

Judge David Carter, who approved clearing the camp, stood nearby while it was being cleared. There was no violence and no arrests were made, at least so far. As this CBS 2 report makes clear, police will be revisiting the site for several weeks, encouraging people to accept help or move on. Eventually, if that fails to work, they will arrest those who remain behind or those who show up to take their place. In the long run, that’s going to be the only way to keep this area clear, i.e. enforce the law against camping there.