Anaheim Council Ready to Reconsider Its Anti-Camping Law

To some, anti-camping ordinances are necessary to maintaining the quality of life in a city; to others they only serve to criminalize homelessness.

The Anaheim City Council will grapple with these arguments in the coming weeks as Councilman Jose Moreno has ordered a review of the city’s 2013 anti-camping law, which could lead to it being rescinded.

Moreno’s request is in response to calls from a group of residents and advocates for the homeless — some who bring up the issue at almost every council meeting — to stop issuing citations for camping and seizing homeless people’s unattended belongings. Instead, they say the city should establish “safe zones” where they can camp and access bathrooms and showers.

“This is what is happening in the ‘City of Kindness,’” said resident Laura Robbins during Tuesday’s regular council meeting, referring to Mayor Tom Tait’s citywide campaign to improve community relations. “Had this been an outbreak of the flu it would be treated as an emergency situation…it is an emergency and should be treated as such.”

Matthew Mariscal, a student at Fullerton College, criticized the city for closing park bathrooms at night, saying “when the parks close, their bodies don’t just close down.”

The activists’ request is not far off from what is already being done by the county, which in October declared a state of emergency to address a massive homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Civic Center. This came after years of complaints from the public and government employees about unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the public plaza.

The county has since estanblished a temporary transitional center in an abandoned, open-air bus terminal that provides basic services like bathrooms, showers, laundry, storage, and a safe place to sleep at night. Also, county employees are stationed at the center, which has been dubbed “The Courtyard,” to connect people to services.

Tait, responding to public comments critical of the city, said that while Anaheim has not done all it can to address homelessness, it has done more than any other city in Orange County. The county’s first year-round, full-service homeless shelter is slated to be built in Anaheim.

Additionally, the city contributed $500,000 toward the shelter it coordinates the Anaheim Homeless Collaborative, and runs two check-in storage centers. Officials claim that since January 2014, 621 homeless people in Anaheim have been reunited with family or placed in housing.

Moreno, however, said city officials shouldn’t spend too much time congratulating themselves for being the best of a bad lot.

“I think our bar has been quite low in Orange County,” he said during the meeting.

Anti-camping ordinances are common in the county and cities from Santa Ana to Laguna Beach have come under fire for how they enforce the laws.

Tait, Kring and Councilwoman Kris Murray were all on the council in 2013 when Anaheim’s ordinance was unanimously passed. The law bans the use of ‘camping paraphernalia,’ cooking and camping in public spaces, and allows the police department to confiscate or impound abandoned belongings left in public spaces.

Police leave behind a notice of where items can be picked up at a location in Central Anaheim, said city spokesman Mike Lyster.

And beyond the ordinance, Anaheim has been heavily criticized in recent years for how it polices the homeless. In 2015, Councilwoman Lucille Kring was lambasted by advocates for her proposal to convert La Palma Park, where many homeless people congregate, into a dog park to “keep the homeless out.”


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 in anticipation of the shelter, which is scheduled to open this summer.

“The officers have a lot of discretion. So if a private property owner says something or complains, that could trigger some action,” Lyster said.

Activists want Anaheim to model a program in Seattle, which in response to a proliferation of massive homeless encampments established designated zones on public property for the homeless to camp in tents and tiny houses.

The encampments cannot be in residential zones or operate for more than two years on the same property, according to the Seattle Times.  The city has since announced plans to open three new authorized encampments.

The council is expected to take up the issue at either its Jan. 24 or Feb. 7 meeting. The advocates say they will be back every city council meeting to talk about the issue until the city takes action.

“With the current weather conditions, it needs to be addressed immediately,” said resident Jeanine Robbins.

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

  • LaIncreible

    So much I really want to say, I use to be so active in the homeless population, volunteering in feeding, providing warm clothes… but now i feel so different. I don’t feel what I use to, i can’t justify this homelessness on jobs not being available. I just dont see how being homelss is an option. Plenty of immigrants families, undocumented cram into 2 bedroom apartments, at time infested with roaches in a not so good neighborhood. Both parents working 2 jobs, making it one way or another being paid under the table, cash, no benefits. Yet they are not on the streets. Being homeless is not an option. Putting your children in a tent is not an option. Why do we see a majority of ethnicity, age ranges, in the homeless community? Young people who don’t want to follow the given rules set by parents, or family memebers find it easier to be homelss, couch surf, and eventually end up at a shelter. They rather be getting high, or just live with no responsibilities day by day… cause it’s easier that way. Then you have those with Mental illness who are too high of drugs that make them feel kinda normal, but too high to admit they have to stay sober to take the necessary drugs to make them function “normal”. What we should be doing is trying to change the laws so that those that do have relatives that want to help can specially when they are too high to make adequate life choices. Then you have veterans living off the sad assistance they receive that often times find it easier to self medicate themselves because its cheaper and easier than going all the way to the VA offices. All these “affordable housing ” they are building all over Anaheim that in reality are not affordable what are they for? Who are they for? Instead of shelters should we be trying to figure out how we can make these places affordab specially in a city where a one bedroom in a decent area runs to be about 1,700 a month not including utilities. Is Anaheim just creating more homeless people? Should i rather than work as hard as i can to provide for my daughters just decide to stay home because i will get more help that way than actually be responsible and give my daughter’s a better life? Continue to pay the rent to an apartment because i myself would never qualify for any of these affordable housing they are building. The question is, what is the problem? The homeless or is it Anaheim, that wants to make it easier to keep the poor poor on the streets instead of finding a real solution to this bigger problem that is creating a bigger homeless population.

  • Stephen Masek

    My company inspected part of the former “Hotel California” mental hospital before it was demolished to make way for a college. It is way past time for us to build new mental hospitals. The part we inspected was not for the most disturbed patients, as it had small apartments. It was the first time I’d ever seen an appliance which consists of a kitchen sink, stove, and refrigerator. I now know that such things are still being made. President-elect Trump has many plans which will help. In addition to working on getting rid of illegals which are stealing jobs which should go to legal residents, building the wall will do much to stop the flow of drugs.

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s disgusting how this country has treated the mentally ill. The government throws paranoid schizophrenics and manic-depressives out onto the streets with a bottle of pills and claim they do it in the name of freedom. Then nobody can understand why some crazy dude who previously walked into an FBI office and told the agents that heard voices in his head and was instructed by a US gov intelligence agency to watch ISIS videos would murder 5 innocent people and wound 8 others. This same tragic scenario has happened countless times in the last 5 years. These folks need real help – not just a bottle of pills.

      The facilities you cited were intended for real rehabilitation to put these unfortunate people back into the mainstream and make them productive citizens. But that’s too much work and costs too much money. Instead the Nobel Peace Prize winner had to spend billions of our tax dollars to drop 26,000 bombs on 7 foreign nations in 2016.

      Yes, I think we’ll see a big improvement with Trump. It couldn’t be any worse. The number of mentally ill wandering the US streets at night is truly disgusting. It’s disgraceful for the wealthiest nation on the planet to treat our citizens that way.

      • Cynthia Ward

        And what do we do with those who refuse to take their meds and won’t come in off the street? We need to get housing for all those who want it, there is no question of that. Sadly, too many in my Anaheim community write off ALL homeless people as “shelter resistant” individuals who WANT to remain “free” on the streets. That makes them feel better about doing nothing. But to accept that idea requires us to believe there is assistance available for all those seeking it, and the only people left on the streets want to be there, and we know that is not true. So first we have to admit we don’t have the resources to provide shelter for all those in need of it, and determine how to find that funding. When we finally have offered help to those seeking it, then we WILL be left with the shelter resistant folks who refuse to come in for permanent housing help, and are only looking to NOT be hassled as they use public space for their own private housing use, which is not acceptable if alternatives are offered. Public space is for the public’s use. BUT…how do we get those who refuse to take their meds to take their meds? How does one force another human being into housing they DON’T WANT? Because once we have offered shelter to those who want it, I don’t want to legitimize homelessness as an acceptable and viable alternative lifestyle, obligating the community to set aside public space for those who have refused more traditional housing assistance. And frustratingly THAT is exactly what some of the advocates want, to simply legitimize a lifestyle of being out in the fresh air and sunshine, failing to hold down a job or apartment, and looking to the taxpayer for a hassle-free place to camp, and/or better shelter in winter months and then BOOM, back out into the wild of our park systems, and I don’t want to support that. Compassion for those who have no choice but to use public space until a proper program is set up to help those seeking it? Yes, of course. But a permanent acceptance of people camping in parks of holding sections of the library hostage with their stuff is NOT kosher. Balance. How do we find balance?

        • LFOldTimer

          The homeless population in OC is estimated to be over 15,000. How many available shelter beds are there in OC on any given night? 1,500 at most? So how is it possible to offer shelter to the needy when the OC homeless population outnumbers the shelter beds by over 12,000? Do you think living on the street is a choice for most of the homeless? Have you ever actually had a conversation with them about it?

          The price of housing has forced many people to live on the streets against their will. You don’t have to be mentally ill to be homeless. About 25%-35% of OC is a job loss away from homelessness. A one bedroom apt rents for $1500 or more. That would be the monthly net income of someone making about $12/hr. Have you ever considered that?

          Not everyone has family to fall back on to help pick up the pieces when their lives fall apart. Mental illness is one of many reasons for homelessness. And if a person isn’t mentally ill when he or she loses a job and ends up on the street – chances are pretty good they will be soon thereafter. Try living on the street for a few weeks and see what it does for your mental health.

          So where are the 12,000 homeless in OC who don’t have shelter as an option supposed to live other than in a public place?

          Please enlighten us.

  • LFOldTimer

    Naturally no one wants to address the underlying problems responsible for the explosion of the homeless population:

    1) Offshoring of jobs that have traditionally provided incomes for the lower socioeconomic population.

    2) Businesses leaving California for other states due to onerous regulations and high taxes.

    3) A failed healthcare system that ignores the mentally ill. Have you ever tried to recover from mental illness while sleeping on the streets?

    4) An illegal foreign invasion that has consumed jobs, resources and shelter space – driving up housing costs – that our elected government officials not only turn a blind eye to – but ENCOURAGE!

    When’s the last time your city councils discussed the REAL problems?