As frustrated residents and businesses alike reach their wits end regarding the illegal Santa Ana River Trail homeless encampment, the Anaheim City Council and Orange County Board of Supervisors each took action on Tuesday to begin law enforcement operations on the Santa Ana River Trail with the goal – in combination with an emergency ramp-up of outreach services – of clearing out the six-mile long homeless encampment from the popular recreational trail with 60 days.
According to officials, these law enforcement operations will begin today.
Kris Murray’s Operation Home S.A.F.E. Moves Forward
Two weeks ago, Councilwoman Kris Murray unveiled an ambitious proposal called Operation Home S.A.F.E., which is premised on the principles:
• Those who want help will get it;
• Those who refuse help must leave;
• Our laws will be enforced;
• The health and safety of all our residents will be protected.
The Anaheim City Council voted 7-0 to implement Murray’s plan, which includes the following:
- Work with the County of Orange to expedite an additional 100 beds at the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter and open the armories for additional shelter beds.
- Negotiate a Letter of Understanding (LOU) with the County of Orange and neighboring cities to conduct joint enforcement of the SART, to be approved by the City Council.
- Pour all available resources to implement Operation Home Safe to address public health and safety in Anaheim.
- Partner with county efforts to create a temporary, emergency shelter to serve up to 500 people as a part of this effort;
- Coordinate all local, state and federal homeless partnership programs; nonprofit, for-profit, volunteer networks for a Community Triage Day to systematically address the SART homeless encampoment
- Give fair warning to inhabitant of the SART homeless encampment that while Anaheim will provide shelter and services to those who’ll accept it, those who do not and instead violate the law will have to face the criminal justice system when and as appropriate. Also Anaheim will enforce all health and safety codes and keep these areas secure, safe and free of unlawful activity.
- Create a tactical plan to clean and repair City-owned or controlled property damaged by homeless encampments and work with the county to restore damaged property and trails in the SART along the city border.
- Promote the City’s existing SB2 zones, which permit by right emergency shelters, and provide expedited building permit processing and waiving fees, to those willing to take advantage of the existing zoning area.
“It’s important that we realize this situation has gotten to a level that it is creating a crisis in our communities and that we cannot solely rely on the county to solve this problem. We have got to be willing to take it to the next level,” said Murray.
Tuesday’s Anaheim City Council meeting was packed, but in addition to the usual assortment of organize homeless advocates there were a large number of homeowners who don’t ordinarily attend council meetings. They were fed up with the crime and blight that has followed in the wake of the explosion of homelessness in their neighborhoods, and self-organized via social media to demand leadership and action from City Hall.
Last week, 200 angry Anaheim residents – primarily from Council Districts 5 and 3 – packed the council chambers for a raucous community meeting with Mayor Tom Tait and District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel:
On Tuesday night, they spoke overwhelmingly in support of Operation Home S.A.F.E. and a dramatic ramping-up of enforcement efforts.
“This plan has a balance of compassion and tough love. Please stop enabling those that need help yet they refuse it. The homeless have to do their part,” said Anaheim resident Elissa Goodwin.
Councilwoman Lucille Kring recounted a recent tour of the riverbed and other areas impacted by homelessness in a slide show.
“As they say the riverbed is a prison without walls and it’s true. The people are living in squalor; they don’t want help so people who are addicted [to drugs], we need to gather them up and put them somewhere where they can get the help that they need,” said Kring.
County Acts After Months of Paralysis In Face Of Exploding Encampment
The OC Board of Supervisor unanimously approved a request by the OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) to conduct law enforcement operations on the SART, targeting the growing criminal element in the encampments who prey on adjacent neighborhoods, businesses and other homeless. According to a recent Orange Police Department memo, these criminals are “engaged in illegal activity including narcotic usage and sales, theft, assault, public intoxication and indecency and other crimes.”
The OCSD’s plan will double the number of officers tasked to policing the illegal SART homeless encampments from three to six deputies, who will conduct law enforcement operations 7-days a week in staggered 12-hour shifts. Intensified, “saturation” enforcement operations will be conducted on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Many people living in the riverbed legitimately need help and we are sympathetic to that, but we also need to address the criminal element there and the effect on the surrounding community,” said Undersheriff Don Barnes.
The OCSD will also work with other SART cities such as Anaheim and Orange to establish a joint task force to enforcement on the river trail.
The Board’s action comes after months of public outcry over the county allowing the homeless encampment to metastasize over the last year, enormously complicating the task of removing it and restoring safe public access to the SART.
It unclear how many hundreds of homeless live on the Santa Ana River Trail. City-Net, a non-profit facilitators of homeless services that contracts with the County, Anaheim and several other OC cities, estimates that as of August there were 422 homeless on the river trail. The Orange Police Department – the only law enforcement agency conducting law enforcement on the river trail – stated in a recent memo that “as of August 2017” there were “approximately 609 encampments along the Santa Ana Riverbed alone. Some of the encampments are shelter to more than one homeless person.”
The SART homeless encampment is in the Third Supervisor District, which is represented by Supervisor Todd Spitzer. Spitzer, who is also running for District Attorney next year, had maintained radio silence for months as the public outcry over the rising crime generated by the Santa Ana River Trail homeless camp – which manifested itself most visibly in the nearly 14,000 people who signed a Change.org petition to clear out the SART homeless camps.
Spitzer broke that silence with an impromptu phone call to the popular John and Ken radio program.
He has been preaching the enforcement gospel ever since and spoke at the Anaheim City Council meeting on Tuesday in support of Operation Home S.A.F.E., pledging the county’s full cooperation and assistance.
Movement In Orange
Also on Tuesday evening, a large crowd of residents and business owners attended the Orange City Council meeting to demand more enforcement action and urging the council to follow Anaheim’s lead in declaring a public emergency.
Rebecca Bates, owner of Rekindle Cafe, said the homeless routinely harass her employees. Recently, homeless individuals used a shopping cart to have an impromptu BBQ behind her restaurant, catching it on fire. Her landlord recently informed her that she would have to ensure the debris and trash left by the homeless was cleaned up or face serious monetary penalties.
The following day, the city released this statement:
The City of Orange would like to thank the Orange County Board of Supervisors for directing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for dedicating law enforcement resources to the Santa Ana Riverbed, a decision made at their September 12 meeting.
The City believes a regional law enforcement approach led by the OC Sheriff’s Department will bring significant improvements to the issue of homelessness and criminal behavior in the Riverbed. The City of Orange Police Department has been active in the Riverbed area for several years, conducting limited enforcement and providing outreach.
In addition, in 2013 the Department created a special unit- HEART (Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team)- specifically to address the challenges related to homelessness. Last night, at their City Council meeting, the Orange City Council unanimously directed the City Manager to bring back a report on how the Orange Police Department will provide support to the OC Sheriff’s Department’s presence in the Riverbed.
In addition, the Council directed the City Attorney to evaluate existing laws related to vagrancy, such as panhandling and loitering, and for the City Manager to provide a comprehensive review of City efforts related to addressing homelessness. Finally, the Council directed the City Manager to assess and report if additional resources are necessary to address homelessness in our community. The City of Orange recognizes that homelessness has a significant impact to the community, and as such, the City will continue to be significantly engaged on both a local and regional approach to address this issue.
Prior to today, the Orange Police Department was the only law enforcement agency conducting operations on the river bed, under an MOU with the county signed in 2000.
Orange Mayor Tita Smith told the OC Register the city will give “100 percent full cooperation.”:
Indicating Orange police might now coordinate with county deputies on the riverbed, Smith added, “I am very grateful that supervisors are dedicating law enforcement services.”
A licensed clinical social worker, Smith attributed part of the recent spike in homelessness along the Santa Ana River Trail to Prop. 47, the 2014 ballot initiative that reduced some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors and allowed scores of convicts early release.
“What’s different now,” Smith said, “is there’s another whole segment of people out there who don’t want to change their lifestyle.”