Homelessness Legal Settlements Approved with Anaheim, Orange and Tustin

SUSAN MURPHY, KPBS

Orange County previously considered setting up an emergency homeless shelter similar to this shelter in San Diego, according to OC Supervisor Shawn Nelson. About 324 people live at the Alpha Project's "Bridge Shelter" homeless shelter in downtown San Diego.

At least 575 new homeless shelter beds will be built in north Orange County under a series of court-enforceable settlement agreements reached in recent days between attorneys for homeless people and the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Tustin.

The settlements will be overseen by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who will be able to enforce any violations through a dispute resolution process. Among other reasons, cities wanted to settle so they could get court approval to enforce anti-camping laws against homeless people, which the federal appeals courts for California has restricted unless a shelter bed is offered to a homeless person.

The settlements were reached as attorneys in the case, and Carter, prepare to shift their focus to south county cities.

Among the settlement agreements, which are in addition to a 200-bed shelter Santa Ana plans to open in the coming weeks as part of the suit:

  • Anaheim will finance and build one or more homeless shelters that have a total capacity of 325 beds, with a goal of opening by January 2019. Two shelters are in the works, the largest of which is a 200-bed shelter at a Salvation Army facility in the city. The location of the other shelter, with 125 beds, at a building arranged by businessman Bill Taormina will be announced later this week, according to city spokeswoman Lauren Gold.
  • Orange and other north county cities (separately from Anaheim) will fund two shelters, each with a capacity of 100 people but capable of being expanded to 200 beds apiece “if necessary.” The two shelter locations and opening dates have not been announced.
  • Tustin city officials are providing a new shelter with at least 50 beds within 120 days of signing the settlement agreement, either in Tustin or another central OC city, but not in Santa Ana. The Tustin settlement was signed Oct. 26, which puts the deadline at Feb. 23, 2019 to open the new shelter. A proposed location for the shelter has prompted concerns from residents, who say it’s too close to an elementary school.
  • Before Anaheim, Orange, or Tustin police enforce their anti-camping laws against a homeless person, they must work with homeless outreach workers to offer an available shelter bed to the person, and provide transportation if the person wants to go to the shelter. People who decline the shelter offer can be subject to the anti-camping enforcement.

[Click on the following links to read the settlement agreements: City of Anaheim, City of Orange, City of Tustin. A settlement has not been finalized with the county but overall deal points have been disclosed.]

“The settlement agreements approved by the Court will produce up to 850 new emergency and bridge shelter placements immediately,” said Carol Sobel and Brooke Weitzman, the two lead attorneys for homeless people, in a statement Monday.

“In addition, 200 placements are set to open in November in Santa Ana. All of the cities in the County have agreed to create a share of [2,700] permanent supportive housing units. with over [1,500] already in progress. Within 3 years, every unsheltered person in the County should have a safe place to live.”

Weitzman said in the release: “This is a landmark result. There is nothing like this anywhere in the country. Within the next year, almost every unsheltered person in central and north Orange County will have a place to sleep that is able to make reasonable accommodations for their disabilities.”

Anaheim officials said they’re happy to move forward from the suit.

“We are pleased to put this litigation behind us and move forward, and are grateful to Judge Carter for helping us reach an agreement that works for everyone and supports a countywide approach to addressing homelessness,” Anaheim officials wrote in a statement issued by Gold, the city spokeswoman.

“The 325 additional shelter beds we have committed to building in Anaheim will help us provide shelter and supportive services to transition people out of homelessness and into stable housing. This will also allow us to address impacts on our parks, neighborhoods and streets by retaining our ability to enforce where needed.”

A settlement hasn’t yet been reached with the lead defendant in the suit – the county government – though both sides have agreed to publicly-disclosed deal points.

County officials have said they will settle the case only if lawyers for homeless people add south county cities to the suit.

The county’s lead attorney, in a statement, said he was happy with the settlement discussions between the county and the homeless people’s attorneys.

“I am pleased with the progress of our discussions with Plaintiffs’ Counsel and with the settlement principles we jointly filed with the District Court,” said County Counsel Leon Page in a statement.

“Those principles provide the County with a positive roadmap for engaging with the indigent homeless while also preserving the amazing quality of life we enjoy in Orange County.”

Tustin City manager Jeff Parker and Orange City Manager Rick Otto didn’t have an immediate comment Monday afternoon.

Tustin was holding a community forum Monday about the proposed homeless shelter in Tustin, which has met a strong backlash from some residents.

A group of Tustin residents has been protesting Tustin’s proposed shelter site near the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin – which is being developed into housing – saying the shelter is about 500 feet from an elementary school.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.