Anaheim Doubles Down on Homeless at Santa Ana Riverbed

Homeless people live in tents on the Santa Ana River bike trail encampment next to Angel Stadium of Anaheim, in Anaheim on Saturday, April 1, 2017. (Raul Roa/Daily Pilot)

The Anaheim City Council will double down on existing efforts to provide services to homeless people before eventually clearing out large encampments along the Santa Ana River.

The council voted unanimously early Wednesday morning to approve a proposal by Councilwoman Kris Murray, dubbed “Operation Home SAFE,” which calls for law enforcement to take action against “those individuals who decline to accept shelter and services and instead elect to engage in unlawful activity” at riverbed encampments.

The vote also declares a ‘state of emergency,’ although that is a largely symbolic distinction that does not trigger any special city, state or federal funds.

The council also called on the county to establish a new, 500-person emergency shelter and provide more social workers and mental health services; and promises to expedite building permits and waive fees for future homeless shelters.

“Ultimately when a date is set for ultimate removal of folks into permanent or temporary shelters – we set a date for when the riverbed is no longer any kind of encampment – [and] we create a triage day to help move people into shelters,” Murray said. “And follow up with enforcing our laws.”

Murray’s proposal also calls for the convening of an emergency task force consisting of county representatives and other cities that share jurisdiction with the Santa Ana River.

The City Council’s action comes less than a day after the county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday morning to ramp up Sheriff’s Department patrols along the riverbed.

At least 422 people live along the Santa Ana River between Chapman Avenue and Ball Road, according to a July survey conducted by the nonprofit CityNet.

More than half of the homeless individuals surveyed reported a disability; 42 percent reported a mental health condition; 24 percent said they struggle with drug addiction; and 37 percent said they have been victims of domestic violence.

The riverbed, which until recently was rarely patrolled by either county or city law enforcement, has triggered concerns about crime, trash, drug use and unsanitary conditions at the riverbed and at other encampments citywide.

A Change.org petition by an Anaheim resident calling for enforcement of anti-camping laws on the riverbed has garnered more than 13,500 signatures.

“This plan as I see it has a balance of compassion for those who want help as well as tough love for people who refuse help,” said resident Elissa Goodwin. “Send a message that homelessness may not be a crime, but crime done by homeless may not be tolerated.”

But many residents and activists also have questioned whether a greater law enforcement presence at the riverbed will only exacerbate conditions for homeless people by issuing them citations and seizing their belongings.

“I feel we really need to get out of this narrative that frames poor people as a public health and safety threat,” said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “Their only crime is being too poor to afford a place to live.”

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who spoke at length to the city council Tuesday evening, pledged the county would work with the city.

“The county has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend to assist the homeless and it has not spent those monies. That’s shameful,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer also said, to a mixture of boos and cheers, he would support putting back portable toilets and wash stations at the river bed to prevent communicable disease outbreaks, citing a deadly Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego.

Policing the Riverbed

The Anaheim Police Department and county Sheriff’s Department will start patrolling the riverbed beginning on Friday.

Spitzer claims the increased patrols will reduce the homeless population at the encampment by twenty percent.

The city currently has two full-time police officers as part of its homeless outreach team and will add two more to help patrol the riverbed, said Chief Raul Quezada.

According to Quezada, Anaheim police officers will be able to enforce county anti-camping laws on the riverbed and the city attorney’s office has been granted permission by the District Attorney’s office to prosecute any violations.

Any seizure of property or enforcement of anti-camping laws will have to comply with recent court rulings and an injunction against the county that deals with seizure of property, according to acting city attorney Kristen Pelletier.

The city must follow the guidelines set out in Jones v. Los Angeles, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that says the city of Los Angeles cannot not enforce a law against sleeping in the streets when there are no shelter beds available. In general, the ruling means the city cannot attempt to remove people from the riverbed without trying first to offer them meaningful shelter and services, said Lyster.

“It’s not like they are just going to go in there and start citing everyone, it’s going to be a community policing strategy,” said Lyster. “It’s about having a police presence there.”

A few attorneys spoke against Murray’s proposal, citing concerns about its emphasis on law enforcement.

“Legal Aid [Society] is very concerned about the resolution because it calls for an immediate increase in law enforcement before housing solutions are in place,” said attorney Sarah Gregory.

A Unanimous Vote

After a series of heated meetings, Mayor Tom Tait has said he wants to hit the “reset” button and repair the council’s contentious and often adversarial dynamic.

Councilman Jose Moreno said he supported Murray’s proposal but criticized some aspects of it, including what he said was an exaggeration of criminality among the homeless population.

Moreno said that many of the provisions of Operation Home SAFE double down on existing efforts by the city to alleviate homelessness.

“There’s a narrative out there that this is all brand new…and staff has already been doing a whole lot and this is allowing them to do more,” Moreno said.

He also attempted to introduce several amendments to the bill, including requirements that the city renegotiate previous tax subsidy agreements with private businesses to help finance Murray’s proposal.

That prompted pushback from Murray.

“I don’t accept the amendments because I don’t think they were offered in a friendly manner,” Murray said.

Tait sought a more conciliatory tone.

“We all need to work together, not just here on this dais but with the county and advocates,” said Tait. “And this is something we as a society need to solve…and we need to solve it in a humane and kind way.”

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

  • Wes Jones

    One metric of leadership is doing what’s right in the face of pressure to do the opposite. If this is true, there was a definite lack of leadership at Tuesday’s Anaheim city council meeting. The first I heard of Murray’s State of Emergency proposal was at the previous council meeting when she announced it. When my wife and I left the council meeting we were accompanied out by Brad Fieldhouse of City Net (he had spent the evening setting next to and chatting with Matt Cunningham of Anaheim Blog fame). Mr Fieldhouse fervently pitched Murray’s plan to us with the claim that by declaring a state of emergency organizations such as the Red Cross would come in and fund an emergency response with tents, cots and food. Since this information wasn’t touted on Tuesday, I guess the Red Cross declined to fund our homeless problem.
    At the Tuesday’s council meeting Todd Spitzer spoke and promised the world, mental health funding and housing, the whole ball of wax. I will believe it when I see it.
    One thing I do believe he will follow through with is increased enforcement on the riverbed. He promised to drive out the 20% that is the supposed criminal element. Now where do you think this supposed criminal element will go? My guess is they will end up in the neighborhoods of the surrounding cities. In my opinion you cannot enforce your way out of the problem of homelessness. Anaheim police Chief Raul Quezada then explained that Anaheim will be taking over some of the enforcement of the riverbed. Neither Spitzer nor Quezada said who would be answering calls for service.
    Again you cannot enforce your way out the problem of homelessness. Have to deal with it. Deal with it with housing, (low cost housing and permanent supportive housing), mental health care funding and substance abuse treatment funding (Anaheim has a good substance abuse treatment program but in the case of homeless clients they must rely on scholarship beds, with sometimes 2 or 3 month wait) or what’s called wrap around services. This is the housing first model. It is the official homelessness plan of Anaheim and the County of Orange and it is the one proven solution to homelessness.
    Tuesday night there was none of that. People with mental handicaps were stigmatized and people experiencing homelessness were criminalized. Both Murray and Kring proved their unfitness to sit on the Anaheim city council in this regard.
    The plan to make a 500 bed emergency shelter is a disaster. The claim of 40 % untreated mental health conditions, all the people with substance abuse problems and the vulnerable population of the homeless community all stuffed into a warehouse elbow to elbow, is a situation akin to a 19 century mental asylum.
    People have begged the Anaheim city council and the County of Orange for years to do something about homelessness, and yet, little or nothing has been done. A person qualified for housing in Anaheim has a greater chance of dying than getting it.
    Councilman Faessel was extolling the fact that homelessness is at an emergency level. But in his tenure as a councilman, I do not recall him ever putting something on the agenda regarding homelessness. Just a fact. And as to him requesting the man with two names to be put on the homeless policy working group proves Councilman Faessel unfit for duty.
    Councilman Dr. Moreno took the time to question each of Murray’s proposals and exposed the fact that the city is already doing most of what she proposed!
    Recently Mike Lyster has been going around spouting about how Anaheim is perfect in compliance with the law regarding the seizure of the belongings of the homeless. This a lie. Monday before the council meeting was the Anaheim people’s homeless task force meeting. As we pulled into the driveway of the Unitarian Church an elderly disabled woman was sitting in the dirt with her crutches. We asked her in and gave her something to eat while we went on with our meeting. Lou Noble gave her a ride to where she wanted to go. On the way she explained to Lou that the Anaheim police had ticketed her for camping in a park and taken all her belongings including her walker. They did not take her, just her belongings. This woman was disabled to the point of not being a threat to anyone. City of kindness, yeah you bet.

  • Bill421

    If you want to live in a tent or small room, someone / business should be able to rent you that space. Make affordable housing available and enforce illegal camping/ loitering and vagrancy laws and either bring back mental hospitals or at least treat the mentally ill or this problem never goes away.

  • LFOldTimer

    It’s really disgusting that the only time these government hacks accomplish anything is when mobs of angry people converge on city hall and demand action. The radio jocks John & Ken are involved too. Otherwise nothing would happen. The homeless would be living on the SA river bed in their tents forever.

    The county constantly told us that they were short on cash to fix the homeless problem because the state was stealing revenue from the county. Then yesterday at the Anaheim Council meeting Spitzer disclosed there were $100’s of millions of county dollars available to spend on homelessness. LOL! The money appeared from nowhere! Magic!

    It’s amazing what these jokers can do when the pressure is turned on – especially with campaign season on the horizon.

    Andy Do was the lead man on homelessness when his seat was up for grabs in 2016. He even slept with the homeless at the bus depot!!! lol. His election is over now so he couldn’t care less. Spitzer wants to be the next DA so he picked up the baton and started running with it!!! I expect Todd to take a sleeping bag down to the river bed any day now!

    Phonies!

    • verifiedsane

      Toad Spitter better take his handcuffs and fanny pack along for his PR overnight….because he’ll probably need them this time.. 🙂

  • Ed Romero

    Anaheim should of Doubled Down at the residence of that former Chief Probation Officer that lived in their City, she and all her Racist Lesbian Employees use to Smoke so much Marijuana on Virginia Way that her neighbors would call our Probation Records Unit (I handled one of those phone calls) complaining about all the Marijuana fumes floating over to their houses. As if that wasn’t bad enough there was that Asst. Chief Probation Officer that use to Smoke Marijuana all day long, the cafeteria full of Law Enforcement Officers and the odor of her Marijuana was VERY apparent AND NO ONE DID A THING ABOUT IT. She had her own Gang of Drug Dealers including the one arrested 5 times for Marijuana for Sale, the one arrested 5 times for Drunk Driving and that Lesbian Detention Officer HIRED by the Director of our Los Pinos Detention Center and REHIRED by the Corrupt Convicted Criminal that Asst. Chief Probation Officer. What a bunch of Dirty Rotten Criminals that ran the Probation Department back then, led by that former Chief Probation Officer with her HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION.

    • Rain Lane

      how is this relevant?

    • thornyrose

      You shold go into the marijuana business Ed. It’s a perfect fit tor you.

  • RyanCantor

    “He also attempted to introduce several amendments to the bill, including requirements that the city renegotiate previous tax subsidy agreements with private businesses to help finance Murray’s proposal.”

    Oh, that is cold blooded. Skadoosh.

  • Smeagel4T

    The homeless do not recognize city boundaries within OC. Heck, like I think most Orange County residents, I barely recognize city boundaries within OC. I’m pretty sure most of us view the county as one big city during our typical day-to-day lives.

    City boundaries are often unclear. Just look at the island of Westminster within Huntington Beach which is the Target/Vons(Pavilions) shopping center. I seriously doubt the majority of people shopping there know, or would guess, it is Westminster and not Huntington Beach.

    So the point behind this is, homelessness needs to be a county-centered problem. When one city launches an assault to drive homeless people out of that city, the homeless simply wander over to an adjacent city.

    I do not mean this as a justification for Anaheim or any other city to “wash their hands” and just shuffle the issue to the county. By “county-centered” I mean something along the lines of a round table consisting of representatives of all the cities and the county coming together.

    Of course everybody wanting to rule their on little fiefdoms likely gets in the way of doing anything intelligent like this.