Orange County officials and attorneys for homeless people, pushed by a federal judge, reached agreement Wednesday on a short-term plan to move and provide shelter for nearly 400 people living along the Santa Ana Riverbed, the largest homeless camp in the county.
Since the start of a federal court hearing Tuesday morning, county officials and attorneys representing seven homeless people scrambled to hammer out an agreement over what the county will be required to provide as they begin to clear the riverbed beginning at 9 a.m. Feb. 20.
Attorneys finalized the agreement around 6:15 pm Wednesday night. It calls for the county to provide a motel room for each of the 400 homeless people for a minimum of 30 days. The county also has agreed to open up hundreds more beds, if necessary, at the Kraemer Shelter in Anaheim and erect temporary tents on other county properties.
People will be allowed to bring as much of their property as can fit in the trunk of the car transporting them to the motel or shelter, and anything left over will be stored by the county for 90 days. Pets will be permitted “where allowed,” according to the agreement.
Read the full agreement here.
People staying in motels will be required to adhere to several rules, including a prohibition on drug use in motel rooms and continued contact with outreach workers.
In the first 30 days of a person’s motel stay, the county is required to provide a clinical assessment of each person’s needs, make regular visits, provide transportation for them to access medical and social services, and provide other services.
The agreement still needs to be approved by the county Board of Supervisors at a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday. If it is approved, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter likely will lift a temporary restraining order barring the county from clearing the riverbed. The order would end Tuesday morning.
If the Board of Supervisors does not approve the agreement, attorneys will likely be back in court.
Attorneys on both sides have not agreed on what will happen after the first 30 days that people are housed and there are still many unanswered questions. But Carter said he will monitor how the county moves forward.
It’s unclear how many motel rooms the county will be able to find; how many pets people will be allowed to bring with them; how people with disabilities will be accommodated or how people will be transported to shelters and motels.
On Wednesday night, attorneys strategized over helping homeless individuals quickly get new or updated identification cards, after one man was refused housing at a motel Wednesday because his ID is expired.
Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel, the attorneys representing homeless individuals, also raised concerns that homeless people leaving the riverbed might be cited for camping or loitering by neighboring cities. In April, two armories, which provide shelter at night and only are open in the winter, will close, potentially displacing more people, Sobel said.
Sobel said one of her clients left the riverbed and was cited on Feb. 8 in the city of Orange and arrested the next day in Anaheim.
Carter, however, has been adamant throughout the hearing that he does not want to see the county or neighboring cities issuing citations to homeless people.
Carter, who will be on site at the riverbed next Tuesday as evictions begin, has urged both parties to “trust each other.”
“If [plans] fall through, I’ll step in,” Carter said.
Carter has presided over an unorthodox and, by federal court standards, informal hearing, where he has pressured attorneys to come to an agreement among themselves rather than ordering them what to do.
Those negotiations stretched until 9:20 p.m. on Tuesday. The next morning at 6 a.m., Carter, flanked by a procession of attorneys, county employees, public officials and media, toured the riverbed for four hours and spoke to the hundreds of homeless people who still remain.
Shortly after 11 a.m., Carter was back on the bench and worked through lunch to hear from a handful of citizens and advocates waiting to address the court. By 1:30 p.m., attorneys on both sides were back to drafting an agreement.
At times, Carter left the bench in the middle of the hearing to personally greet people in the audience, including four members of the Orange County Grand Jury who came to observe the proceedings.
Later, while hearing testimony from a representative of Lighthouse Church, which provides services to homeless people, Carter asked the representative to call another service provider. He came down from the bench, walked to the podium, and they talked – on speaker phone – about challenges for homeless service providers.
Carter and his law clerks also have reached out to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Chapman University, and even asked the Anaheim Ducks hockey team to get involved.
The judge acknowledged his actions over the last two days are an “oddity” for the federal court and outside his normal functions.
“The federal court finds itself in a strange position,” Carter said. “But it may be the very umbrella that gives the opportunity, if they choose, for the county and cities to come together.”
Asked by one speaker, attorney and activist Mohammed Aly, if he would issue a consent decree to enforce the use of federal funds for alleviating homelessness, Carter said he had considered the idea.
A consent decree is a type of settlement that would allow Carter to require the county to take certain actions and give him the authority to monitor the case long-term.
Carter said he was surprised by the progress between the two parties and has since set aside that option.
Carter’s temporary restraining order barred the county from moving people from a section of the riverbed. He said that order created an “affection, kind of this shield” of protection for homeless people who are reluctant to leave. Some people have posted the order on their tents.
“I don’t want that to be a false shield,” Carter said. “They need to know they have to leave.”
He said homeless people do not have a “hereditary right” to camp on the riverbed.
“I have the power as to how they’re treated and how humanely it’s done,” Carter said.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.
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