California Leftist Politicians Should Learn From Orange County.
Orange County’s largest homeless encampment is no more.
On Monday, following a six-day blitz during which county officials moved 732 homeless people into local motels and shelters, the once-bustling tent encampment sat unoccupied. The last few occupants packed their belongings and left. Sheriff’s deputies guarded locked gates to the flood control channel, preventing people from reentering.
“This is a momentous occasion,” said Brooke Weitzman, an attorney who sued Orange County on behalf of seven homeless people, alleging the county’s initial attempts to clear the riverbed encampment in January violated her clients’ civil rights. She and the county later negotiated a stipulation, under pressure from a federal judge, allowing the county to resume clearing the encampment if it relocated its occupants to motels and other shelters.
“We have hundreds of people who would have been scattered in neighborhoods or arrested, now inside for the first time in years and connected to social services,” Weitzman said.
But getting people out of the riverbed is only phase one of the plan, she reminded.
The motel stays are essentially a stopgap fix to give the county time to expand its capacity at local shelters.
County spokeswoman Jen Nentwig said the county already has increased capacity at the Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter in Anaheim, adding beds for an additional 65 people. County supervisors have discussed placing tents or semi-permanent structures on county land in Orange or Santa Ana to temporarily house more people.
County officials also agreed to clinically assess all of the former riverbed inhabitants.
“The OC Health Care Agency outreach folks will go and visit each of the individuals and conduct the assessment, and then go from there as far as identifying the most appropriate resources for each person,” Nentwig said.
Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Andrew Do said they were proud of the county and its staff for working quickly – and long hours – over the past week to find enough shelter for all the riverbed inhabitants and get them relocated.
Toppled tents and piles of debris still littered the riverbed Monday, and public works crews moved methodically through the area, clearing the trash. It will likely take another week until that process is finished and the remediation project can begin.
Sheriff’s deputies will begin enforcing trespassing laws in the riverbed and can cite or arrest anyone who re-enters the area.
Around 15 homeless people gathered outside a locked gate on Monday morning, among the last people to leave the encampment.
One woman was waiting on county staff to provide her with a bus ticket back to West Virginia. One man said he had lung cancer and was awaiting transport to recuperative care to receive medical treatment. Another man who had been found in the encampment on Monday morning – perhaps the final occupant of the tent city – lay slumped against a wall in tatters, head down, twitching uncontrollably.
John Leonard, 65, said he had been living in the riverbed for a quarter-century and wished he didn’t have to leave.
Leonard said he returned to get some of his clothes, which he left behind when county workers moved him into a motel a few days prior. He said he’s thankful for the help but he’s still getting used to living inside after nearly half a lifetime outdoors.
“It’s different,” Leonard said. “Four walls. It’s nice, but I might give it all up to come back out here.”