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They also haven’t called for the anti-camping ordinance to be repealed.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