More than 100 homeless people were moved from the northeast section of the Santa Ana riverbed Tuesday, as part of a mass relocation effort by the County of Orange to clear a longstanding homeless encampment.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter lifted a temporary restraining order around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, allowing the county to continue clearing the riverbed and arrest people if necessary.
By 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, a homeless encampment on the northeast section of the Santa Ana Riverbed was largely quiet and empty, with most of the residents gone, although several homeless people were still waiting for housing.
In the dark, Carter walked briskly through the encampment, passing mounds of trash, abandoned campsites, a small campfire and a group of men loading belongings into a U-Haul truck, with the sound of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” blasting from a speaker.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, county officials reported they had housed over 100 people, largely in motels and some in shelters. They also said Sheriff’s deputies made no arrests of riverbed homeless people. One man who rode past the riverbed had an outstanding warrant and a weapon and was arrested.
An estimated 400 homeless people were living along the riverbed as of last Wednesday, Feb. 14. By the end of Tuesday, officials said they have removed more than 300 people, although it’s hard to estimate how many are left because of an influx of homeless people coming in seeking motel rooms.
“There’s not been one act of violence,” said Carter, congratulating county officials and attorneys who sued the county for collaborating on the effort.
On Jan. 22, the county began a drive to get homeless people to leave the riverbed camps near Angel Stadium.
A week after the evictions started, attorneys Carol Sobel and Brooke Weitzman filed a lawsuit on Jan. 29 on behalf of the nonprofit Catholic Worker and seven homeless people. On Feb. 6, Carter issued a temporary restraining order halting the evictions.
Attorneys, pressured by Carter to work together, hammered out a deal last week to begin evictions Tuesday with the understanding the county would provide at least 400 motel beds and other services, and open up extra spaces at shelters.
Those motel stays will last 30 days, and it’s unclear what will happen after that.
The mass relocation of homeless residents on the riverbed has been heavily publicized in the news media, drawing people from up and down the riverbed and from other parts of the county to the area to receive services.
Just after 9 a.m. sheriff’s deputies, public work crews, and county healthcare workers descended on the encampment beginning at the north end, coming south from Ball Road/Taft Avenue.
By 10 a.m. more than 100 people were lined up to receive housing and services from county healthcare workers, who conducted assessments of each person’s needs and connected them to shelter and housing.
Weitzman and Sobel monitored the process, along with a team of attorneys from the county.
County Counsel Leon Page said deputies hopefully wouldn’t have to arrest anyone.
“If people are moving, then it’s not a crime,” Page said.
Throughout the day, much of the north side of the camp that stretches from Ball Road/Taft Avenue to Katella Avenue was bustling with activity as people were getting their belongings together before deputies and county workers got to their section.
Many people neatly stacked their belongings they planned on taking to motels, while piling the rest of their stuff to the side for work crews to throw in the trash. Some left their tents up because they said they weren’t sure if they were going to get into a motel Tuesday or not. Overnight temperatures this week are expected to drop into the high 30s.
Weitzman said she began telling people south of the railroad tracks in the northeast portion of the camp to leave their tents up, but get their belongings together to get ready for the move.
The county is obligated to provide storage to people leaving the riverbed for up to 90 days.
Others simply abandoned camp, taking only their essentials and leaving behind a trail of things like broken tents, dirty clothes and shoes, tarps, food and food wrappers, bicycle parts and various electronics that ranged from cell phone parts to solar panels.
Many people had cats and dogs waiting with them.
A couple of homeless women expressed frustration at the number of homeless people coming from outside the riverbed seeking housing. “Fuck those guys,” said one woman angrily, as her friend packed up.
Many homeless people lacking identification cards walked, biked or skateboarded to the section of the camp by Angel Stadium to get county-issued ID cards that would allow them to check into a motel.
Some people wore their cards on their shirts or jackets, so deputies knew they were from the riverbed and would allow them to move back and forth throughout the camp. Deputies stood at the entrance to Camp Hope in an attempt to keep out the homeless not from the riverbed.
James Petkus, holding his one-year old cat, Baby, in his lap, said he was thankful to finally leave the riverbed and get antibiotics for his cat, which was suffering from an infection from a dog bite.
County healthcare workers helped Petkus, who is largely confined to wheelchair, gather his belongings and load them into a van, while he awaited a ride to a motel.
Meanwhile, Jeff Bronniche was packing up awaiting his motel booking with his small dog, Tinkerbell. He was hesitant to get a motel last week “because everything has been changing so fast,” and worried that he would not be placed in a motel while simultaneously losing his tent and other survival gear.
Bronniche, a Minnesota native who has lived in Orange County since the 1980s, has been struggling with heroin addiction after he broke his back doing masonry work.
Milton Chalker has lived at the riverbed for more than three years, while his wife Sophia Halliday and their two children stayed at a string of shelters. Halliday said his wife suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and has difficulty coping with noisy motels.
The couple’s two children are ages one and six and Chalker and his wife were concerned about being moved to a motel with criminal activity.
The family waited for several hours, and eventually were placed in a motel in Laguna Niguel.
Meanwhile, Amy Potter, a 47-year-old homeless woman who has lived at the riverbed for two and a half years, was one of at least two dozen people still waiting after dark for housing. Potter was originally signed up to go to a motel in Anaheim, but county workers over-booked the motel.
Potter, who has a cat, has had her things packed for a week but said she was prepared to stay another night in her tent.
“They have been helpful, but today was kind of strange. This is their first time doing anything like this,” Potter said. “I understand that.”
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said county employees stayed on site until 11 p.m. Monday night, and will likely do that again.
“We’ll stay here until people are housed,” Braun said.
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Contact Spencer Custodio at [email protected]