Clearout of Homeless Camp Wraps Up at Santa Ana Civic Center

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

People have been completely cleared out of the civic center and no tents remain in the Plaza of the Flags, which used to be the center of the Civic Center homeless camp. April 12, 2018.

The homeless people who slept in the Santa Ana Civic Center for years were cleared out by Thursday afternoon and people can’t sleep there anymore after much of the area was blocked off by chain link fences.

County healthcare workers began assessing and moving people out of the Civic Center April 2 when there were roughly 200 people camped there, most of them in the Plaza of the Flags. Santa Ana police, who have a designated unit to patrol the area, have been there everyday, while city maintenance workers have been fencing off sections of the civic center as soon as a portion is clear.

“We’re enforcing the no camping laws now,” Deputy Chief Ken Gominsky said. Since the start of the clearout, Gominksy said there have been no arrests, fights or other problems.

Assistant to the City Manager Jorge Garcia said portions of the civic center are fenced off so the city can clean the area and do maintenance work, like fixing drainage systems and installing new lights.

“In the Plaza of the Flags area, for example, besides general cleaning that needs to take place, there’s actually a drainage system that is there. We found out through the rain that the drainage system is not working properly, because of all the folks living there,” Garcia said Thursday. “It was never designed for that.”

The civic center clearout agreement made at a March 17 court hearing is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit overseen by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter. At an unusual court hearing, held in the Santa Ana City Council chambers rather than in the federal courthouse, the judge invited the mayors and city managers of all 34 Orange County cities to find a way to get shelter and homeless services to everyone who needs it.

The county began clearing homeless people out of the Santa Ana riverbed in January, which brought on the lawsuit because people were being evicted without being given a place to go. Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange also are named in the lawsuit because of their anti-camping and anti-soliciting ordinances.

Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said healthcare workers will not be coming back to the civic center because everyone has been cleared out of the Plaza of Flags.

On Thursday afternoon, both sides of the Plaza of Flags were fenced off, leaving a walkway through the middle, wide enough for vehicles. Additionally, seating areas next to the plaza and the state government building have been fenced off, including the benches.

Attorney Brooke Weitzman, who represents the homeless people in the lawsuit, said she’s not sure where the civic center homeless population has been placed.

“It’s hard to tell,” Weitzman said Thursday. “I think there’s still some work to be done with the people around the civic center, but I think most of them may be gone today.”

The county hasn’t released numbers on where people have been moved to, but it could provide that data as early as Friday.

Weitzman was walking around the outskirts of the civic center and approaching the few people still hanging around the library Thursday afternoon. People had their belongings packed, but were either sitting on the grass in front of the library or next to the roundabout.  

The county’s shelter data for Wednesday night show there were 19 available beds at the Courtyard shelter in downtown Santa Ana — meaning 406 people stayed there Wednesday night. Throughout the court hearings, Carter said he thinks the maximum capacity for the Courtyard shelter actually is 380.

Additionally, there were 51 open beds at the Kraemer shelter in Anaheim, 17 at WISEPlace women’s shelter in Santa Ana, 129 at the Santa Ana National Guard armory and 125 at the Fullerton National Guard armory, according to the county’s figures.

Many homeless people have said the armories are too restrictive because they can’t take all of their possessions or pets with them and have to be out by 6 a.m. In contrast, people can stay at the Courtyard in Santa Ana all day and the shelter has limited space for pets.

Weitzman said people now need referrals, obtained through the county healthcare agency assessments, to get into the Kraemer, WISEplace and Courtyard shelters.

Meanwhile, Garcia said there is electrical infrastructure damage in the civic center because people have lived there for so long.

“A lot of the lighting electrical components were vandalized over the years from people trying to hook up to the electricity,” Garcia said, adding the area also will be retrofitted with LED lighting. “There will continue to be walkways so that people can access. So we’re maintaining pedestrian access, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access, throughout the entire civic center.”

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