As Placentia officials gear up to crack down this week on people sleeping in vehicles and public spaces, the latest in a line of many cities enacting such restrictions, a fundamental issue is emerging for regional leaders. 

Where do the homeless go?

As Fullerton loses funding to use the regional shelter in its own city, residents there are being shuffled to others across north county. In South County, people are still on the streets months after being pushed off an encampment below San Clemente, despite assurances of services by officials that would not be the case. 

The City of Orange is making a controversial push to boot a soup kitchen that’s fed and clothed locals for decades. 

And Santa Ana — whose city officials have complained about being the county’s homeless dumping ground — has no permanent shelter with services of its own in operation. 

Yet neither do many of Orange County’s 34 cities, namely those in south county — despite years of federal litigation against most cities over their lack of effective sheltering for the indigent. 

While county leaders have largely gone silent — evidenced by the lack of policies or even meetings from the county homelessness commission — cities are taking their own individualized approach. 

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Placentia city officials are pushing a series of tighter restrictions on homeless people’s ability to sleep or store belongings in parks and public spaces, as well as new bans on people sleeping in their RVs and cars within city boundaries.

City Council members have been in the process of passing the laws — through three new, individual ordinances and/or amendments — over the course of October. They were all introduced Oct. 5. 

Council members will finalize one of them, expanding the legal definitions of prohibited camping and personal property storage on public areas, at today’s meeting. Click here for information on what will be discussed and how to access the meeting

Weeks earlier, on Oct. 19, council members finalized new restrictions on people sleeping in their vehicles within city boundaries. 

One updated law prohibits the parking of all habitable recreational vehicles, such as RVs, within the city at all times. Before, such vehicles were prohibited only between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Council members that day also enacted a new ban on people sleeping and/or living in cars on city streets between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. 

“We do get a lot of calls for service for people sleeping in cars and camping inside their vehicles. This is another tool for us,” said Placentia Police Capt. Mike Butts at the council’s Oct 5 meeting, publicly introducing the new policies. 

“We believe the changes will help us to reduce community complaints and take a proactive approach to problem-solving. They provide clarity for officers and educate the public,” he said.

Though there are some exceptions. People hoping to park an RV in town can apply for permits, though the type of permits available depend on whether one is a resident or from out of town. 

Owners of RVs can also park in the city for no more than 2 hours if they’re patronizing a local business, or if they need to make an emergency stop for repairs. 

And people sleeping in their cars won’t face any penalties from law enforcement if they haven’t already gotten a warning. 

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Sleeping in a car for no more than four hours doesn’t constitute a violation, according to the new law. Officials said that’s meant to be flexible to people who may be tired and need rest before going back on the road.

Placentia officials in statements and during meetings have said such laws are necessary to restore areas like parks, streets, and sidewalks to their intended use for the public — and give police officers the authority and necessary tools to take enforcement action against people.

They also point to the fact that Placentia is home to one regional homeless shelter, operated by nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), at a time where other cities across the county have refused to foster one.

The shelter has been online for more than a year.

And it’s currently at capacity, but holds 2-5 beds there daily “for law enforcement to bring a homeless person to the facility if they want shelter and services,” said City Councilwoman Rhonda Shader in an Oct. 11 written statement, responding to reporters’ questions. 

So, officials argue, this amped-up ability to enforce won’t come without the availability of resources for people. 

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“If it becomes apparent we are dealing with homeless, we have resources, officers trained in homeless liaison duties, we have the city navigation center,” Capt. Butts said at the Oct. 5 meeting. 

A city can’t arrest homeless people or push them around if said city doesn’t have available shelter beds to meet its homeless population, per current case law resulting from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the Martin v. City of Boise case.

“To take enforcement where we’re actually moving somebody, by law we have to offer them those services, and we have been successful in placing many many individuals in our navigation center,” Butts said.

“The Navigation Center provides wrap-around services, including job training, job placement, housing vouchers, substance abuse services, and medical and mental health services,” Shader wrote in her statement. 

She added: “Residents can stay at the Navigation Center for up to six months. However, under certain circumstances and if they are meeting certain criteria, Navigation Center residents can sometimes stay longer than the initial six months.”

Meanwhile, as the colder, wetter winter months take hold, Orange County’s homeless keep getting shuffled around. 

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The Fullerton Observer recently reported that the City of Fullerton ran out of funding to keep using the regional “Navigation Center” homeless shelter, forcing it to transfer those currently staying there, who were sent there by the city, to other shelters across north county — including Placentia’s. 

The Fullerton Navigation Center, located on Commonwealth Ave and operated by the Illumination Foundation, also serviced the City of Santa Ana as officials in that town still have not constructed their own permanent shelter. 

City spokesman Paul Eakins said in a Monday email that 66 beds in the Fullerton center were used for people referred by Santa Ana’s homeless outreach team.

The City also has a motel program that provides shelter for homeless families. Currently, 5 families are enrolled, Eakins said, adding that the city is home to the County of Orange’s shelter, known as the Yale Shelter, which provides 425 beds in Santa Ana.

The City has 75 beds allocated at the Salvation Army Hospitality House in Santa Ana, Eakins added. Currently, 45 of those beds are occupied.

Chapman student journalists Justis Bouyer and Huw Pickering contributed reporting.

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