Orange County Sunday wrapped up the eviction of hundreds of homeless people from camps along the Santa Ana riverbed, finding motel and other shelter for more than 700 and clearing away tents and canopies that lined the riverbank near Angel Stadium for at least two years.
Still to be determined is a long term plan for where the homeless people will go when their 30-day motel stays end. County Counsel Leon Page said county officials are working on it.
“It’s a wrap,” said Carol Sobel, one of the attorneys representing homeless people. “Everybody has to get their property (outside the gates).”
By late Sunday afternoon, the homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Riverbed, once home to up to 1,000 people, was a skeleton of its former self.
Except for a few still standing, nearly all tents and makeshift shelters that once crowded the river had been dismantled by county public works crews. Abandoned furniture, bicycle parts and mounds of trash remained. Just a handful of people still were packing their belongings.
Sobel said Monday morning at least three people were awaiting rides to recuperative care, including one man who recently had a stroke and made his way to the just shut down camp from the Fullerton armory.
Monday morning the county closed the trail to homeless people and the larger public until the area is cleaned up of all trash and debris. People who enter the riverbed risk being cited for trespassing or arrested, said Senior Assistant County Counsel Marianne Van Riper.
County health staff, volunteers, sheriff's deputies and attorneys have worked for the past week to move hundreds of homeless people living along the riverbed into temporary motel rooms and shelters.
Since Feb. 14, the county and its contractor, the nonprofit CityNet, have housed 719 riverbed people in motels or shelters, according to Page.
Lorne Erickson, 51, was among the few people still packing up Sunday afternoon. A friend, a homeless woman who had been placed in a motel room, returned to help Erickson pack up his belongings.
Erickson, who is partially blind and has been visually impaired since childbirth, stayed Sunday night at the Courtyard Transitional Center in Santa Ana, a former bus terminal converted into an outdoor emergency shelter. After some medical exams, he will be transported to an assisted living facility in La Palma.
Erickson has had two eye operations and relies on assistance from friends as his vision worsens. An infected abcess on his arm from a spider bite, which recently sent him to the hospital, has returned.
Now he’s excited to move to a facility where he will get meals and round-the-clock medical care.
“I was able to get my county ID, and now I’m going to get some structure that I need, from the assisted living,” said Erickson, who has spent almost his entire life in Orange County.
The county has tried for months to evict people from the Santa Ana riverbed, facing legal challenges along the way.
Sheriff’s deputies began “voluntary compliance” evictions in January, walking tent-to-tent informing people to pack up and leave, or else face citations and arrests down the road.
A lawsuit on behalf of the homeless, filed Jan. 29, a week after the evictions began, led U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter to push both sides for a “humane” eviction system. The result was motel stays for a minimum of 30 days while the county and lawyers for Elder Law and Disability Rights Center discuss what to do next.
As part of the agreement, Carter lifted a temporary restraining order Feb. 20 and sheriff’s deputies will be allowed to cite or arrest homeless people who refuse to go to a motel or shelter after being approached by county social workers.
“At this point, there comes a time when we’ll enforce the trespass laws,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Saturday afternoon. “I think they’re (county lawyers) still waiting for a little bit of guidance from Judge Carter.”
Carter is out of the country this week so county officials have time to formulate a long-term plan for how they will house the hundreds of homeless people now at motels around the county.
In the meantime, county officials also will need to address some of the problems that have arisen at the motels. Some motels forced their homeless patrons to leave after just a week, while others stripped rooms of televisions, refrigerators, phones, shower curtains and bedding.
Brooke Weitzman, one the attorneys working on behalf of homeless people, said housing people in motel rooms is “a great first step,” but she’s worried about people who once had a large community at the riverbed becoming socially isolated and lacking support.
“The tough side (of having people spread across the county) is people sitting alone for the first time in many years, with their thoughts, who don’t know what to do,” Weitzman said.
David Duran, a volunteer with the group Housing is a Human Right, said volunteers have been inundated with calls from former riverbed homeless people now living in motels, who need rides, food and other assistance.
Duran worries about those who volunteers have not been able to contact “falling off the map.”
Vladimir Shagove, who’s lived in Orange County for 16 years, said staying at a motel will give him a chance to get back his trucking or demolition business – whichever he can do with a damaged sciatic nerve.
“It will give me a chance to get back to normal,” the 46-year-old Shagove, who is originally from Russia, said on Saturday.
A former resident of the encampment, Patrick Nalty, returned Saturday to pack up benches, a fold up table and some other items that were being donated by his homeless friend to Mary’s Kitchen, a homeless shelter and food pantry.
“Just trying to be of maximum service to God and my friends,” Nalty said. He has been living since November at Mercy House, which is another homeless shelter and food pantry.