Homeless people camped along the Santa Ana River slowly are packing up and leaving as a result of county evictions, but most said they are without a place to go and no backup plan.

“We have no plan. There’s certain people who have gotten help, like my buddy in the wheelchair. There’s a bunch of us getting lost in it,” said a homeless woman who didn’t want to give her name.

“We’re not just going to disappear … I don’t know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go,” said the woman, an Orange County native. “There’s been a lot of people who left. It’s crazy. It’s like where is everybody?”

She said she’s going to wait until her wheelchair-bound friend leaves before she packs up and figures out what to do next.

Nearly every city in the county has enacted anti-camping ordinances.

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies walked tent-to-tent Jan. 22 and told everyone they needed to start packing up their camps and leaving, but gave no deadline. One deputy that day said he expects it to take several weeks before the area is clear.

On Friday, one homeless man said people in the encampment are leery after the sheriff’s deputies and numerous media outlets descended on the camp last week.

Voice of OC walked the 1.5 mile long camp Friday, Saturday and Sunday and nearly every homeless person who was approached for interviews didn’t want to talk. Nobody wanted to give their name. Most only offered small bits of information.

People were slowly breaking down their camps and packing up over the past three days.

On Friday and Saturday afternoons, non-homeless families were camped out in RV’s in the Angel Stadium parking lot, right next to the homeless encampment. Many families were barbecuing and tailgating while they waited for a monster truck show over the weekend.

Nearby, some homeless people swept trash and debris into neat piles after they packed up to leave, while others seemingly took their essentials — like food, sleeping bags and toiletries — and left everything else.

“As long as we’re making progress (on moving out), I think we’ll be okay,” said another homeless man. “I’m just taking it as it comes … I don’t really have a plan. The cities don’t want us.”

He was just finishing packing his tent Saturday afternoon in hopes of leaving before the sheriff’s eviction enforcement becomes more aggressive. He said he was thinking about heading to the homeless encampment at the Civic Center in Santa Ana, if there’s space.  

An employee of the Orange County Health Care Agency said on Friday most of the evacuation progress has been on the portion of the encampment south of Orangewood Avenue, while most people stayed in place on the portion next to Angel Stadium. The riverbed encampment, parallel to the 57 freeway extends from roughly Angel Stadium to the 5 freeway, and is now about 1.5 miles, according to Google Maps.

Santa Ana winds whipped tents and tarps around starting Saturday and the winds raged through the encampment on Sunday as temperatures rose.

A sheriff’s squad car occasionally rolled through the camp, but the deputies’ presence was nowhere near the Jan. 22 level when they notified the 500 or more people living along the river they would have to leave.  

Many of the conversations overheard during the last three days were people trying to hash out what they will do next and where they can go.

Undersheriff Don Barnes told reporters Jan. 22 the sheriff’s department are taking a soft approach to the eviction.

“We’re not going to come in with an army of deputies and force everybody off in 24 hours,” Barnes said “We’re looking for progress. We’re looking for those who are occupying the riverbed to start making progress and start relocating voluntarily.”

“At some point, the individuals here, including recreational users, this area will be closed … at some point there will be a time where people will have to leave. If they don’t leave they may be subject to arrest,” Barnes said, adding the county Health Care Agency has been offering housing and shelter to people. But the county has a shortage of both overnight shelter beds and long term housing.

Meanwhile, the news articles and TV reports about the riverbed spurred one Los Angeles church to come out for the first time Saturday to hand out bags with sandwiches and chips. The evangelical church, Set Free Church, L.A., offers homeless people a 60-day sobriety program at a ranch in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County and Phelan in San Bernardino County, according to Associate Pastor Victor Morris.

“That’s why we came down here … the articles I read said the guys are being evicted and they have nowhere to go,” Morris said as he sat next to a five-gallon cooler of cold water. “We’ll take everybody here if they want to go, we can put them somewhere. All they have to do is say ‘Hey, I’ll go.’”

The church usually deals with Skid Row and other LA homeless in areas like North Hollywood, Morris said.

After the people complete the church’s sobriety program, they can live at one of the churches — which also helps with job placement — and start working, he said.

“That’s our focus is to get them off the streets and get them clean and sober,” Morris said. “We believe that if we can get them right and change their focus away from this and drugs and alcohol and hopelessness and things of that nature, then they can focus on getting their life back together. We give them that opportunity, meaning they don’t have to worry about anything else than getting their lives right.”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.

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