Protesters Fight Plans to Push Homeless From Santa Ana Riverbed

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Demonstrators hold signs along Chapman Ave. next to the Santa Ana River on Monday morning.

This article has been updated.

More than 30 protesters gathered in the rain Monday to demonstrate at the Santa Ana riverbed against plans by county officials that would push out dozens of homeless people who live along its banks.

Carrying signs and chanting “Hey hey! Ho ho! These people have nowhere to go,” demonstrators took aim at the county’s plans to replace a homeless encampment with sand and boulders for a flood control project.

Notices posted by the county in recent weeks warned homeless people they would be arrested and prosecuted if they remained in the area.

Activists said evictions would be unconstitutional because the county has failed to provide an alternative place for people to go. Existing homeless shelters are already operating at or near capacity, they said, and county officials have acknowledged a severe shortage of transitional and permanent housing for homeless people.

In fact, Shannon Widor, the spokesman for the county’s public works department, recently said of the riverbed’s homeless residents: “We know they have no place else to go.”

Activists said that’s exactly why the county’s latest threat to evict homeless people is not only inhumane, but illegal.

“The county just can’t be coming in and displacing people this way without giving them another place to go,” said Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Santa Ana River protest 4

County officials say they won’t be clearing the entire area between Orangewood Ave. and the 22 Freeway on the first day, but that people will eventually have to move. Widor says the county is giving people time to relocate before the county clears the area.

“As the project progresses, the County is requesting that those encamped in the area voluntarily comply and relocate from the project area,” county spokeswoman Carrie Braun wrote in an email to a Voice of OC reporter Monday night. County outreach workers have been offering transportation to National Guard armory shelters, she said.

Asked where the county recommends homeless people go, if, as activists say, the armories are near-full, Braun said county officials “are not telling people where to relocate as there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

Some protesters said they were prepared to physically block the county’s efforts to place the boulders. Meanwhile, lawyers were on hand to observe potential interactions between law enforcement and the protesters.

“I came out here to practice civil disobedience and stop the county from engaging in illegal action to violate the constitutional rights of the folks who have nowhere else to go,” said Mohammed Aly, a lawyer and activist who helped organize the protest.

Aly placed new notices next to the county’s, noting the shortage of shelter beds and saying “attorneys and activists will monitor any illegal County action, including arrests and removal of property, targeting individuals involuntarily experiencing homelessness in this section of the channel.”

It includes a phone number (714-414-3736) for the group he founded, the OC Poverty Alleviation Coalition.

Santa Ana River protest 3

“It’s unjust. And more and more, in America, standing up for justice means defying authority. That’s the day and age we’re in right now,” Aly said.

Among those who attended the demonstration were Dwight Smith, who runs the Isaiah House women’s shelter in Santa Ana; and Greg Walgenbach, director of the Catholic Diocese of Orange’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.

Garrow and Aly urged residents to call county supervisors to voice their opinion.

“We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that this is a humanitarian crisis, and it needs immediate attention, not just the disbursement of encampments,” said Garrow.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly paraphrased a statement from county public works spokesman Shannon Widor regarding the county’s plan to evict people along the riverbank. 

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Curtis Cienfuegos

    Here is someone in the same situation as the riverbed people are in, but he’s making a difference.

  • OCservant_Leader

    VofOC can you get a “well crafted PR statement-approved by CoCo”

    From the OC Homeless Czar?

    How does this strategy of bulldozing the homeless out of the riverbed fit into their “End Homeless by 20** in OC” plan?

    Can you interview the homeless Czar? That would probably be an uncomfortable chat.

    I’ll bet she is rethinking her move to the OC about right now.

  • Lori

    Curtis I get that you want the encampments removed, but what’s your proposal for a solution? Where do you think these people should go? I’m truly curious. I propose the Orange County Great Park. It has plenty of space to relocate the true needy in this bunch. Those who just want to party should be dealt with through law enforcement because they are breaking laws, but those who are truly homeless and can’t go to the shelters because they have pets could be relocated. Instead of parsing off the Orange County Great Park piece by piece to developers to build more unaffordable housing the homeless could be allowed to camp at the park. Another option would be for all the cities that have skirted away from building affordable housing to contribute the in-lieu fees they’ve collected from developers to the nonprofits who build affordable units on city and county owned properties.

    • Curtis Cienfuegos

      I proposed a solution.

      • Tito Bombaci

        Yeah, but it was an untenable one.

        So much so that most of us are just now getting our composures back from laughing at it, hello?

        And NOW you claim you were serious?

        Um, you may have a future as a Hate Comic, pal…

        • Curtis Cienfuegos

          Explain how it’s untenable. You bleeding hearts need to put your money where your mouth is. There are plenty of options for these people to use. But they find every option in the book not to use them. The riverbed is not a place to be living.

          • OCservant_Leader

            We did. It’s called paying taxes. (Well I pay taxes – millionaires on up – don’t).

            We understand that there are those among us – who aren’t as gifted as you and may need a hand up.

            As an American – I have agreed to our “great experiment” of Capitalism & compassionate Socialism for our most needy.

            Not only is it the OC Christian thing to do- but it keeps us all healthier & safer – as Sir – if u didn’t notice – we are all connected.

            Bulldozing the homeless out of the riverbed – is shameful. It’s bad public policy. It’s against God.

            OC is the wealthiest County in the US. This is embarrassing!

            Throw them a bone – for Christ’s sake!

          • Curtis Cienfuegos

            The problem is the people do have options, bit they don’t want to not smoke, or not drink, or have a curfew. There are resources they can use. This isn’t a Christian thing. This is a safety thing. As I already stated, my house has been broken in to, stolen bicycles are traced back here, the drug use. Now that baseball season is around the corner and all the people waking to the stadium, it’s a matter of time before someone in the encampment gets greedy and brave. All of you at great at talking, but it’s not your neighborhood being affected.

          • OCservant_Leader

            I have sympathy for you. It is a dangerous situation – for everyone.

            My point is – the OC BOS did not provide a safe alternative.

            Is there land in OC?

            Yes. Can we move the encampment there – yes.

            Can we provide port-a-p*tties and clean water?

            Yes. Can we reach out and help who we can and separate the predators? Yes. (We have the highest paid LE in the Country)

            Can we provide security to home owners – yes.

            This isn’t brain surgery.

            My point is – you need to call the County info line to make a complaint. Good luck. Or you can go to a BOS meeting and speak for one minute- only – sorry.

            This is a public policy failure.

          • Lori Moore

            You are delirious. You have an actual homeless woman herself telling you there are able bodied men and girls down there partying it up and you quote “the christian thing to do”… to enable them to continue destroying God’s temple (their bodies)? Bad public policy was allowing that encampment to begin with. Its just a matter of time before one of them gets so loaded they fall into the swelling river bed and our tax dollars rescue, and Gloria Allred sues our city. Who pays for that? we do

          • OCservant_Leader

            Re-read my post madame – I specifically said to sort out predators from those who need help.

            I am referring to the mentally ill/disabled and/or addicted – who are being preyed upon by the predators.

            To say “they” are partying – as an excuse to do nothing, allow the dangerous situation to get worse – and watch people suffer…makes you the “delerious” one and may I add – ignorant and mean spirited.

            I will pray for you.

          • Lori Moore

            Interesting… You don’t know me or my kids that have had
            these experiences with the homeless encampment but “because you say so” I am
            ignorant and mean. Interesting… that you
            close with “I’ll pray for you” you are aware that saying you will pray for
            someone for the purpose of making them feel bad or trying to make your argument
            superior, well that is violating the spirit of his commandment not to take the
            Lord’s name in vain. Prayer is never to
            be used as an exclamation point on an angry sentence yet, you began your
            sentence stating I’m ignorant and mean.

            Save your prayers for your own soul and I earnestly encourage
            you to open your mind and listen to someone else’s point of view and before
            reacting… sit with it awhile and perhaps you would benefit from both sides of a
            problem. Proverbs 25:11

          • OCservant_Leader

            I think you missed the point of Jesus’s teachings Madame.

  • Sisu54

    It’s not about the homeless. The county has thousands of acres of land they can locate them into. The issue is the Santa Ana River which is a protected resource area. In the US you can’t allow non permitted development to occur in and near a preannial river. The encampments create point and non point source pollution. The California Coastal Commission has fined the Salvation Army and issued them consent decrees with legal fines due to allowing camping in the river areas. Why does the cites, county and state get a free pass to violate federal clean water rules, laws and regulations. Everyone knows the homeless need to be taken care of, but you don’t let the agencies let them live in filthy conditions next to resource areas. It’s time for the agencies to step up to the plate and move them to the Tustin air base or Camp Pendleton like was done during the evacuations of Saigon.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Good points.

      The County BOS is guilty of Abrogration of Duty with regard to the Homeless/Mentally ill/Addicted population. Period. They just pushed it to the next election, but guess what – they ARE the same people elected over and over.

      I worked at the Civic Center (for many years) and every morning got to face whoever the County released from the jail (at 12:01 am) and walked down to join the encampment. (Don’t believe me – just watch Lock-Up OC and they follow the inmates walking to the civic center).

      This is just one example of poor governance.

      You brought up the evacuation of Saigon- interesting.
      Those folks – sponsored by the churches found lifetime employment at the County. Don’t believe me? Call OC Accounting.

      I wonder if our most vulnerable citizens can look forward to such treatment?

    • LFOldTimer

      Thanks for the information, Sisu.

      It’s sickening, isn’t it?

      People who run these non-profits shouldn’t make close to what they siphon off in government grants and public donations.

      My guess is that most of those jobs are quasi-political appointments.

  • Curtis Cienfuegos

    There’s a simple solution to this. Anyone who is against them removing the encampment can join together and allow 2 tents to be set up in their backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, allow one to live with you. But your money where your mouth is. Since this encampment has grown, my house has had an attempted burglary (home alarm scared away), trash blows across in to our neighborhood, bicycles that are stolen can be traced to this location, and the list goes on. This encampment is a safety hazard and needs to be removed!

    • Alana

      I understand your concerns but what about all the people who have never committed any illegal act and simply need a place to live? Housing these people ourselves is not a practical, safe or permanent solution, so we support finding them one BEFORE driving them out of the only place they could safely spend the night.

      • Curtis Cienfuegos

        And there’s the perfect definition of NIMBY. It’s fine in someone else’s neighborhood but don’t bring it to mine.

        • LFOldTimer

          I’ve said this for years, Curtis. Every city in OC should be mandated to provide a homeless shelter for the number of homeless residents who live in their cities. Dumping all the homeless on Anaheim or Fullerton or Santa Ana is disgraceful. And I don’t live in those cities. Maybe if every city had to carry part of the burden our brain trusts would be forced to find REAL solutions for homelessness instead of only giving the problem more lip service.

          But I want you to know there are a handful of us out here who empathize with you and the direct harm you’ve sustained as a result of the homeless population. You shouldn’t have to bear that burden alone.

        • Tito Bombaci

          EXCELLENT comment…

          …only if you realize you are the NIMBY, lol.

          And if you don’t, then get your mental health evaluated at once, okay?

          But if you do realize how you turned the tables on Alana like a callous creep, then you’re a pretty smart guy…utterly devoid of any human value whatsoever, however.

          • Curtis Cienfuegos

            You darn right I’m a NIMBY. I see first hand what he happened to a neighborhood because of this encampment. So again, I challenge all of you who at are saying we’re “callous” put your money where your mouth is. Our neighborhood has already been negatively affected. So bring them to your backyard if you see no issues with the encampment.

          • Lori Moore

            My kids have gotten to see people urinating while they order food at In n Out, my daughter, (a student) was at the Taco Bell drive thru when she was approached in her car for money. She can barely feed herself… she said sorry I dont have any. He said you have enough to feed yourself B*$#ch! opens his zipper and proceeds to pee on her car. My 2 sons have had their car broken into… human feces is a common occurance by 7-11 on Ball… YES, it has effected us. I’m raising kids like we live in a 3rd world country. Paying taxes, keeping my junk in a garage or backyard… these homeless people have more junk and items surrounding their tents then I do… why isnt that managed? they have all the rights in the world and the property owners… we just get to watch our property value deterioriate. Who wants to live a mile from the OC Skid Row? and trust me Sharon Swest is right… its able bodied men and women down there acting like they own it and its a completely lawless society. So when my friends pat themselves on the back because their so charitable… they feed the homeless, I want to puke. What theyre actually doing is making sure they stay put in my backyard and dont travel on into theirs. Let their children live and see what my kids have to live with because the do- gooders feed and burp them.

          • Curtis Cienfuegos

            Lori, what you described is a prime example of an issue that, for life of me don’t understand, and that’s the knucklehead voters of this state voting in favor of Prop. 47 and, even worse, 57. Part of the flood (no pun intended) of transients in the riverbed is a direct result of the release of inmates from prisons. And these people, as demonstrated by your story, know that they can continue to break laws because everything is now cite and release. Essentially, they get away with almost anything but murder, which will probably lowered to a lesser crime on Prop 67.

          • Gabe Johnson

            Not enough restrooms. When I’m in a poor area getting gas I’ve often been unable to use the restroom even as a paying customer. There should be more public restrooms some places that serve food don’t even have restrooms for customers. I would recommend a dashcam , taser, and pepper spray for dealing with homeless peeing on your car in the future. Snap a photo of them in the act and send to police if needed.

          • Lori Moore

            Had nothing to do with not enough restrooms. He was angry, hit her passenger window with his fist because he said she had money to feed herself when he asked if she had an extra dollar. She didn’t, he got angry hit her window. She sat there with her windows rolled up scared to death and he proceeded to pull down his zipper and urinate on her passenger side fender. We called Taco Bell… they don’t care, call Anaheim PD they don’t care… this is how we live now. This is the home I provided for my kids to grow up in- we have no rights. We live in Anaheim, shop in Anaheim, pay taxes but trust me… no rights. The poor homeless, they have rights & protesters… protesters that could care less about the people that live around there since the encampments began.

  • Coreen K.

    Can someone explain why it’s the county’s responsibility to find a place to relocate these people? Asking because I honestly don’t know.

    • justanon

      The answer is in the question … what kind of society do we want to be?

      Do we want to let the sick (physical and mental), the old and the weak (addicts, etc.) fend for themselves or do we we want to help people maintain a certain level of dignity and do we as a society want to maintain a certain level of humanity?

      We seem to be content to have them live on the streets, riverbeds and freeway underpasses, out of sight and out of mind.

      We are the richest country on earth, IMO we can and should do better.

      This is a choice.

      • Becks Torres

        It’s also a choice for the ones out there who want to escape responsibilities. Let’s weed those out and help the true needy. Let’s distribute evenly throughout cities in O.C. such as Newport Beach, Yorba Linda, Irvine, Brea, etc. Let’s see how well that goes over. ‘Not in my backyard’ will be the cries from the most liberal.

      • Joe

        The answer is mental asylums. Open them up and dump them off there. That’s what the their families did. At least they’d be fed and housed.

  • This seems to be a no-win situation for the county. Tax-paying citizens demand that the influx of the homeless here be dealt with, feeling it is a blight on our community, yet when the county “deals” with it, they are harshly criticized. No compensation is worth that aggravation, IMHO. If more homeless folks are flocking in from everywhere, what is the real answer?

    • David Zenger

      “yet when the county “deals” with it”

      Ms. Hamilton, when the County “deals with it” it is always from the wrong motive with strategies that are intended to look good and help win elections.

      “No compensation is worth that aggravation,”

      I sincerely hope that is meant as humor. The County CEO’s pay and benefits are well over $350,000 a year. I’d say that’s worth the aggravation.

      • OCservant_Leader

        “The County has the wrong motive”… Yup

        They say they have task forces and czars and listening Sessions and other BS and then secretly give Public Works the green light for this poorly planned project?

        OMG! This is horrible PR. Does not solve anything and is an aggressive tactic. I sympathize with those home owners close by – who you should be pissed off at is your “elected” (I say this loosely) officials who have royally ignored and continue to screw up this issue.

        Really. Can they DO anything right?

        • David Zenger

          I always loved the way Public Works started projects at the worst time of year. This looks like some sort of rip-rap replacement along the levee. Why in February?

          • OCservant_Leader

            Yea- why major construction- in the riverbed- during the rainy season?

            I’m sure there are muzzled engineers on gag order forced to go with this ridiculous County’s show of force against the homeless.

            Against the homeless? Really?

    • OCservant_Leader

      Regarding County CEO compensation -he got the “family package” ala Mauk. His wife, in-laws, sister and who knows how many other relatives are Executives now. Large checks on direct deposit.

      He’s a Million Dollar man. Thank you taxpayers

  • LFOldTimer

    What happened to that new homeless czar the county hired? Aren’t these the sort of problems that she was expected to tackle?

    No matter how many calls the supervisors get – they won’t do anything unless the displaced homeless people camp out in front of their homes.

    Homeless people don’t have a union that gives campaign donations.

  • David Zenger

    The County can’t do anything right.

    • Rivett

      Eh, it’s not so much can’t as doesn’t and won’t. I’m sure there’s plenty of outright incompetence but if anyone even aspired to be better, they could.

      • David Zenger

        Unfortunately aspiring to be better isn’t much use without the courage to do better. And the County culture only rewards subservience to that day’s supervisorial whim. I can’t address the rank and file, but the department heads and their immediate subordinates were (and are) in lockstep unison: never get out of the boat.