Anaheim Wrestles Over Homeless Anti-Camping Ordinance

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC contributing photographer

Hundreds of tents, makeshift shelters and other belongings of the homeless community line the bike trail along the Santa Ana Riverbed near Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Anaheim City Council members have failed to endorse an existing anti-camping ordinance aimed at people living on the streets, tabling a request by Councilwoman Kris Murray to “reaffirm” the city’s existing approach to addressing homelessness.

They also haven’t called for the anti-camping ordinance to be repealed.

Local advocates for the homeless have been pushing for months for the elimination of Anaheim’s anti-camping ordinance, a law which allows the police to ticket people for camping in public and confiscate their unattended belongings.

Councilman Jose Moreno asked for a review of the anti-camping ordinance in January, leading many to believe he would try to repeal it. But so far Moreno has not called for any specific action.

The city council voted 4-3 Tuesday, with council members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring and Stephen Faessel voting no, to table Murray’s item.

The council also voted 5-2, with Murray and Kring voting no, to create a homelessness policy working group to develop policy recommendations for the city’s approach to ending homelessness.

Mayor Tom Tait, who voted for the original anti-camping ordinance, said Murray’s item was premature and the council should hear from the working group before trying to assess the anti-camping policy.

Murray suggested the task force was a political pretext for the council to justify repealing the anti-camping ordinance.

“I am not supportive of forming a task force at what may be a veiled effort to assemble a vocal group that is opposed to our anti-camping policies, and that’s what this list looks like.”

Kris Murray, Anaheim council member

Homeless activists have argued the law punishes people for being homeless and exacerbates their instability by confiscating important belongings like clothing, medication, cell phones and personal identification.

Many want to see the city address, in addition to long term housing solutions, the short term needs of homeless people by establishing a “safe zone,” or a sanctioned campground where people can stay temporarily.

“The city seems to not view this issue as an emergency for the vulnerable human beings that are out there,” said Renee Balenti at Tuesday’s meeting. “Jailing them, ticketing them, taking their property creates more of a hardship.”

Mildred Aufenkano, a homeless woman, said she has been ticketed while living along the Santa Ana River.

“We would like to see a camp site open up for us,” Aufenkano said. “We need a place where we can say we’re safe and we’ll be okay.”

Others defended the law as crucial to protecting public spaces.

“Allowing the homeless to camp in the parks infringes the rights of others to enjoy…city resources,” said Trevor O’Neill, an Anaheim Hills resident who has also filed to run for City Council in 2018. “Yes, we have to show compassion to those who need help but tent camps are not the right solutions.”

Yvette Lizardi, a resident of West Anaheim, said her neighborhood has had problems with homeless people rifling through trash cans, searching unlocked cars and trespassing.

“Myself and my family and neighbors are having a very big problem with them in that they are literally in our backyard, terrorizing the people that come by, and making us feel very unsafe,” Lizardi said.

Murray said the city is already providing programs focused on long-term solutions.

“There’s nothing healthy or safe or secure or sanitary for those living in those conditions. The response should not be to look at additional encampments but to look for additional housing,” Murray said.

The city temporarily suspended enforcement of the ordinance for about a month in late 2015 in response to calls from residents and activists, and following the lead of cities like Santa Ana and Huntington Beach in relaxing enforcement of their laws.

And since then police have selectively enforced the law.

According to staff, the city has issued 17 citations to date in 2017 and 36 citations in 2016.

Dozens of cities have similar regulations, and some have faced legal challenges to those laws. In separate injunctions, the courts have barred both the city of Los Angeles and county of Orange from confiscating the belongings of homeless people without sufficient notice and creating a place where impounded belongings can be recovered.

Moreno said he hopes the working group will create a more cohesive city-wide policy for tackling homelessness, including plans for building more affordable housing.

He said that only three of the group’s twelve members have advocated for the repeal of the anti-camping ordinance.

“I’m at a loss [that] council members think this is a radical group,” said Moreno.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • rufus4444

    LFOldTimer, his political rant aside, has important points about the reasons. Housing is NOT a solution, just a way to get political points. The cause of homelessness has two primary faces: one is the mental health management problem and the other is job insecurity/fiscal insolvency. Focus on these and the homelessness diminishes. Each one of these has myriad elements that must be addressed.

    Mental health care is not much of a policy as it is a product of reactionary politics. We either work with those that can help themselves or institutionalize those that can’t function in society. All the rest remain with their extended or immediate families to deal with. This creates more problems in society by making these families more unstable. This group of partially functional individuals have enough capacity avoid being institutionalized. I know first hand that it’s impossible for a family unit to adequately deal with mental health issues unless that person is willing and accepting of their condition.

    Job insecurity/fiscal insolvency has many precursor elements that cause various citizens to end up without the means and capacity to take care of themselves. This includes excess medical costs, poor money management, lack of maturity/discipline, company policies/practices, etc, etc, etc. Literally, there are many causes, but the point is many have solutions. But that’s part of the problem too. Because of ideological differences, certain types of proven solutions that are both cost effective and workable don’t get considered. Single payer is one solution but is ideological not acceptable regardless of the facts that surround it. Small business protection is another important component, but in this country we treat big and small on the same playing field… guess who loses. Small business can’t compete on health care, economies of scale, resources. Gov’t is supposed to represent the people in ALL matters (including bargaining for the cheapest prices in anything), not represent those that pay the largest sums. Lobbyists are one thing but fiscal support (aka, bribery) is another.

    Stepping stones of policy is the only way to both manage gov’t assets and actually work towards a solution. But this requires that special interest not be part of the political equation (regarding using money), unless it’s to inform and educate. Homelessness is solvable but finding the political will requires an educated citizenry that’s well informed of the facts.

    Screw it… ship the lost souls out of the city. Let another city deal with. Hmmm, sounds like a county problem.

    • Charlotte Banks

      Actually studies show that “housing first” works. It’s hard to land a job before you have a place to live. Yes, holistic answers with mental health management, rehab, housing and job placement are all critical. But it’s hard to manage all those unless the needy have a home to go to.

      • rufus4444

        I wasn’t focused on an actual prioritization of policies but rather pointing to the many aspects of the problem itself. Housing is the obvious “first” thing, but I say it with a caveat. If you only do housing then wait, you waste valuable time not addressing other issues that fuel the homeless problem in the first place.

        Housing addresses the obvious immediate concern, but that’s only the part that makes the news. Dealing with the source is ultimately the most important aspect as the whole point of dealing with a problem is have a lasting solution.

        This is part of the conundrum of the liberals vs. conservative divide. The liberals deal with the emotional (moral) part while the conservatives deal with the fiscal part (well, today the conservative view is less concerned with fiscal issues than with ideological ones and as a result have a low respect for the poor/needy and then feel it’s ok not to help them… it’s an emotive reaction as well though but resulting in an opposite response (amoral)… hence the divide.) If the conservatives returned to a fiscal platform they’d be more motivated if a real long term solution was offered. And it is this that offers the most potential. I digress…

        Don’t forget, a person in a house with no job or future prospects may make you feel better but is missing the point of finding a solution. It’s equivalent to giving food to the needy and sitting back and feeling good about it…. only then realizing you have to keep feeding them. If they don’t have a reasonable avenue to facilitate self support, it will become a media perceived mess of “wasted” funds.

  • LFOldTimer

    The new fake reformers on the Anaheim Council have refused to repeal the Anti-Camping Ordinance and instead dropped back 10 and punted by voting to appoint a Homelessness Policy Working Group. Another bureaucratic do-nothing dodge to kick the can down the road.

    Never listen to a politician when he or she runs for office. They know that they can mislead or lie to you once elected and short of an expensive and labor intensive recall – there’s nothing you can do about it. Liars in political office who steal your votes and campaign donations are protected.

  • Joe Bleisdale

    I mean the place reeks of a human cesspool. The problem can’t be solved but only controlled. Adding toilets and showers can do nothing to remove the stench of human waste.

  • Mazzola Mazzola

    I read recently that in Los Angeles 25% of their homeless have lived in Los Angeles less than a year.
    Places all taxpayers in a quandary, to help the needy or will it end up being a lighthouse for all to come in the land of honey.
    What percentage are newbies, what percentage wants to work. What percentage would relocate to a cheaper state or county.

    • jim.swanek

      Do you really believe anyone living in a tent city gets up early in the morning, cleans up, and heads to the bus stop to go to work or job interviews? Perhaps we should have farmers show up at harvest time and offer rides for willing field workers…Do ya tink they’d get two?

      • Mazzola Mazzola

        Actually no.The reality is if i were an employer there is no way in hell I would ever hire a man or a woman who have several teeth PLUS leather skin.
        I drive by there and trash galore, bikes collections of trash, and although Porta potties etc. may help, it also helps them with a place to meet Johns or drugging ( they will drug either way.

        The other day I saw a very pregnant woman, looked like 8 months, her skin looked tough as nails, homeless and spaced out. WTF if you have no home what the F are you doing!

        Even if they somehow get places to live they will invite all their buddies, allow them to store trash, and bring “Therapy pets”. On top of that their is no incentive to go elsewhere if California taxpayers are footing the bill.

        Hurry! Hurry! Newsflash! Come one Come all to California, deplete the state, suck it dry!

        • LFOldTimer

          There is tremendous social pressure on the pols to DO SOMETHING – but using the current county paradigm to “end homelessness” the more they do the bigger the problem gets because they refuse to focus on the causes for homelessness. They think that by throwing more money at the problem it will solve itself. It won’t. Instead, it will multiply. But the pols don’t care because elected positions are temporary and are only used as a stepping stones for greener pastures.