A homeless person walks near the Walk of Honor at the Santa Ana Civic Center.  (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro)

A longstanding grievance for homeless people who camp at the Orange County Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana has been the regular confiscation of their belongings by the police officers who patrol the sprawling government complex.

The Santa Ana City Council addressed that issue Tuesday night by authorizing negotiations with nonprofit Mercy House to operate a storage check-in center that would provide a secure place for homeless people to keep their things.

The gathering of homeless at the Civic Center has for years vexed city and county leaders and highlighted the lack of services in the county for the homeless population. Homeless advocates who attended Tuesday’s Council meeting said the check-in center initiative is a rare example of progress on the issue in Santa Ana.

City and county officials would still need to hammer out the details of the check-in center, including the exact location, which will be somewhere in the civic center area. Some city leaders are pressing for the downtown’s shuttered bus terminal as the best spot.

City officials also hope the county will shoulder some of the cost. Council members designated $205,000 for the center, which they are describing as a “pilot project.”

Massimo Marini, a community activist who helped organize the Civic Center Roundtable, a grassroots lobbying group made up of members of the downtown homeless population, said implementing the storage check-in center at the bus terminal would be the “preferential option” for homeless residents of the civic center.

“Santa Ana can lead in homelessness for once,” Marini said.

The check-in center would include three “customized commercial storage units” that could provide storage for about 225 homeless people, according to a city staff report.

It would also include other amenities, including electrical outlets for charging cell phones and other small devices. And the center would be a hub for resource referrals, case management and other things like bus passes and government IDs, the staff report states.

As part of an agreement with Mercy House, the nonprofit would be required to conduct targeted outreach and keep data on how they have helped homeless people, such as placing them into “other housing opportunities,” according to the report.

The center is also expected to reduce redundancies from charities and other groups who provide food and services for homeless residents.

Separately, council members also directed staff to negotiate with OCTA and the county on opening the public restrooms at the bust terminal earlier. Currently, they are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. City officials will be seeking a 6 a.m. opening time.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez urged city staff to move forward with the storage center as quickly as possible and recommended opening it at the bus terminal.

“We need to move forward immediately. We cannot just wait for the county,” Martinez said.

Mayor Miguel Pulido, however, said keeping the storage center at the bus terminal could present “obstacles.” Pulido and the previous administration under former City Manager Paul Walters had opposed using that facility as a homeless shelter, citing possible negative impacts on downtown businesses.

“I would hate for this to be a false hope, or a panacea,” Pulido said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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