A homeless encampment that swelled outside a Mexican cultural center near downtown Santa Ana over the last several months could now be gone in a matter of weeks, under an agreement reached between the center and city officials on Tuesday.
For months, El Centro Cultural de Mexico, the community center where Voice of OC rents office space, was considered a sanctuary for homeless people in an area where they’re routinely fenced off from public spaces and in a county that recently closed its last walk-in shelter.
El Centro, weary of feeding into what they decried as a regional criminalization of homeless people, refused to call the police to clear the encampment sprung up around the building.
Meanwhile, the fines leveled on El Centro by the City of Santa Ana stacked up to $1,800.
But those fines are expected to be waived if the community center can clear the encampment in 45 days, under the agreement El Centro signed Tuesday, according to city spokesman Paul Eakins.
The city would also partner with El Centro to host resource fairs to connect the homeless people to vital services.
City officials would also provide sanitization stations and port-a-potties over the next several weeks while El Centro leaders try to clear the encampment.
El Centro has also agreed to clean up the current debris and trash that’s filled the public alleyway adjacent to the building stemming from the encampment, according to city spokesman Paul Eakins.
That requirement had raised concerns among volunteers at El Centro like Ben Vasquez, wondering whether the center would be pinned into doing more than what they’re obligated to and cleaning a space that the city itself is in fact responsible for.
While Eakins said he couldn’t share the settlement agreement with Voice of OC until Wednesday, he said his understanding was that El Centro would only be responsible for cleaning the current trash lined along the alleyway resulting from the encampment.
“The main thing was the existing trash problem caused by the encampment, but obviously (the alleyway) is a city right-of-way, so the city would be maintaining it going forward,” Eakins said.
The agreement also keeps the city from obtaining an abatement order from court — something that would have empowered the city to go their own route in clearing the encampment on El Centro’s property with police.
Vasquez said having 45 days to clear the encampment and lack of an abatement order allows El Centro — in the meantime — to remain a sanctuary for homeless people until they find a suitable relocation situation.
“Creating a sanctuary in our space was most important,” said Vasquez, who added it allows El Centro to deal with the homelessness situation in their own way.
Vasquez said El Centro, beyond the parameters of the agreement, will try to find alternatives to shelters for people outside the building who don’t want it. Ways to do this, he said, could include securing motel room or federal housing vouchers.