The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a new ordinance that bans setting up tents and storing personal property at city parks, a measure intended to stop homeless people from dominating the city’s La Palma Park.
In recent years, the park, located in northern Anaheim, has become something of a tent city for homeless residents. Supporters of the ordinance say drug use, public nudity, prostitution and other illicit activities are now commonplace at the park.
The current situation is “prioritizing the deviants over people who want to feel safe in what’s supposed to be a public park,” said Heather Myers, a recent graduate of UC Irvine who studied criminology.
Opponents of the measure argue that it is inhumane and effectively criminalizes the homeless because it allows personal property stored at parks to be impounded by police. Their argument is that with no year-round shelter in Orange County, city officials shouldn’t be forcing people from what is effectively their homes when they have no place else to go.
“I do not feel it is right for children not to play at parks, but I do not feel it is right to deny a man housing,” said 24 year-old Amanda Dill, who said she was once herself homeless. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can find a solution.”
The controversy in Anaheim again highlights the lack of progress in Orange County toward alleviating homelessness. The county remains among the few large metropolitan areas without a permanent homeless shelter and earlier this year an effort to build one in Fullerton was defeated.
So all that the county has are the National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana, which typically don’t open until mid-December, and then close again at the end of March.
Anaheim’s ordinance is similar to those of other cities, including Santa Ana and Fullerton, among others.
It has already been illegal to spend the night at parks, but the ordinance specifically prohibits setting up tents and storing personal property at parks. Infractions will be punishable with a $100 fine for the first violation, a $200 fine for the second, and $500 fines for “each additional violation in one year,” according to a city staff report.
Police can impound property and auction it and then possibly dispose it after 90 days without being claimed. Officers are to leave a notice with instructions on how to fetch the property in a “conspicuous place,” the report states.
The ordinance still requires a second vote before it can be implemented.
Beyond the ordinance, Anaheim officials are also attempting a compromise.
“The ordinance is far from the only thing we are doing, and what we intend to recommend doing, to make a difference,” said Community Services Director Terry Lowe. “Our goal at La Palma Park is to do everything we can to help the people living in and around the park, who want to be helped, into more appropriate housing.”
Lowe said that the city has contracted with Mercy House, a homeless assistance organization, for a pilot project to conduct daily outreach to homeless people at La Palma Park and connect them with services. Also, the city will be providing temporary storage for their possessions, so they can find services and go to the shelter, he said.
So far, 59 people have registered with Mercy House under the project, Lowe said, and at least one family of four and two others have been referred to “more appropriate living situations.”
The council approved a $40,000 donation, matched by Fullerton, that will allow the armory in north county to open earlier and for an additional 18 days. Responding to concerns from the Anaheim Poverty Task Force, city officials decided not to make the ordinance effective until 30 days after the armory opens to allow enough time for homeless people to learn about the armory.