Moving Started for Santa Ana Civic Center’s Homeless

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Santa Ana Police officers keep watch as county healthcare workers begin assessing the homeless people living in the Plaza of Flags at the Santa Ana Civc Center. April 2, 2018.

County workers, along with the Santa Ana Police Department, began clearing out segments of the Civic Center homeless camp Monday as healthcare workers and city contractors started health and other assessments of roughly 200 people living there.

“I’m very, very happy that some of these people have moved out and not have to sleep outside in the plaza anymore,” said Deputy Police Chief Ken Gominsky. “There were no issues or problems whatsoever. I think everybody there was happy to have the county offering help. I think it’s been great day for everybody.”

Marnie Mitchell, who’s been intermittently homeless for about four years because of “domestic issues,” said the Orange County Public Law Library staff blocked the Plaza of the Flags entrance to the library because homeless people were using the bathrooms. She’s been in Orange County for over 20 years.

“They would hound us for things like washing my hands and hair. Every time I cleaned up the mess around the sink by wiping up (the water),” Mitchell said. The last time she tried to use the bathroom, a library staffer “just yelled at me like I was a piece of trash.”

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is hearing a federal court case brought by lawyers for some of the homeless people, toured the Civic Center camp Monday morning and spoke to Mitchell for a few minutes. She said she told him about the bathroom problem.

Carter is holding a hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday with county supervisors and elected officials and city managers from all of the county’s 34 cities to try to work out a plan for adding emergency shelter space.

Orange County native Kimberly Sandoval, who’s been in the Civic Center area for nearly 15 years, said she became homeless “because of bad decisions.” She doesn’t believe the county is going to be able to shelter everyone.

“Honestly, I think they’re full of shit. How are you going to house us when there’s no space?” Sandoval said. “I’m hoping that the transitional (housing) comes through, but I have to have a plan B in case,” adding that she’s scouting railroad tracks and other locations where she might be able to camp.

She said she hopes to get a job once she gets into some type of shelter and the rhetoric being used by city and county leaders along with residents is making the situation worse for homeless people.

“They feel that whatever happens to us, we deserve it,” Sandoval said.

City Net, the contractor that runs the county’s Santa Ana homeless shelter and county Healthcare Agency workers started their assessments at the Plaza of Flags around 9:30 a.m. but county spokeswoman Jennifer Nentwig said she didn’t have numbers on how many people were moved out Monday. The workers are trying to find shelter, health and other resources for the homeless

The city posted signs in the civic center March 22 notifying those who were living there that Monday was the last day they could camp.

Unlike the start of the Santa Ana riverbed homeless camp operation when Sheriff’s deputies walked tent-to-tent in January and told people they needed to start leaving, the county healthcare workers walked tent-to-tent and gave the homeless people assessments for health, mental and drug treatment services and shelters.

Although Santa Ana has a no-camping law, it’s not going to be enforced at the civic center until the county has had a chance to provide services and shelter to everyone. There’s no deadline yet.

“We’re going to wait for the county to do their part. Our ultimate goal is compliance and make sure the people get their services,” said Jorge Garcia, the assistant to the City Manager. “We don’t have a definitive date (on enforcing the no-camping ordinance). We want to make sure the county completes their assessments and offers services to anyone that is there.”

The area being cleared out is bounded by Civic Center Drive and Fourth Street/Santa Ana Boulevard, between Flower and Sycamore streets.

The Civic Center clearout is an agreement that’s part of the ongoing federal court case filed against the county, Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Orange in January by attorneys on behalf of homeless people who were being evicted from the Santa Ana Riverbed. The county agreed to move at least 400 people from the riverbed into motels for a month — that number grew past 700. Now the county is scrambling to find shelters for the people living at the Santa Ana Civic Center.

Carter, who is overseeing the case, has toured the Civic Center several times and also walked the entire three-mile stretch of the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless camp in February. He showed reporters pictures on his phone that he took Sunday of the plaza side of the courthouse that showed numerous homeless people camped in front of the doors and along the hallway.

The Board of Supervisors planned on building emergency homeless shelters in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach, but the move immediately sparked public outrage in the communities. Supervisor Todd Spitzer went to Irvine and Laguna Niguel’s council meetings March 20 and largely classified the homeless community as sex offenders, criminals and mentally ill. All three cities vowed to sue. Irvine filed its lawsuit last week. County supervisors March 27 rescinded their plan to created the three emergency shelters.

Attorney Brooke Weitzman, who represents the homeless people in the federal lawsuit, echoed Sandoval’s thoughts about the rhetoric being used. She said the county should be doing an educational outreach to cities to help counter “Spitzer and the things he says are the loudest and the least-connected to evidence.”

“There are so many people who are succeeding because they got this opportunity, but the county’s not gathering those stories and telling them — giving the cities information they need on why it’s in everyone’s best interest to support it,” Weitzman said.

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