Supervisors, Anaheim Council Set to Act on Removing Transients

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Clearing transients from riverbeds is on the agendas of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Anaheim City Council today.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss increasing law enforcement devoted to the flood control channels where an estimated 422 transients live between Chapman Avenue and Ball Road.

To Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the ultimate plan is to sweep the transients out of the riverbed areas in Santa Ana and Anaheim and help them get back on their feet elsewhere. The board voted June 6 to direct staff to come up with a plan for law enforcement in the area, which is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, a separate legal entity.

“We made it unequivocally clear we're closing the riverbed and not allowing people to habitate there,'' Spitzer said. “We're not going to allow the riverbed to become Orange County's skid row... So, we're going to clear everybody out of there, but we're going to be humane about it.''

County officials say they will provide various services to the transients while essentially evicting them.

“We're not just going to lock people out. We're going to offer them opportunities,'' Spitzer said. “In other words, you have to work with us. You have to meet us halfway to help us help you.''

Spitzer said it is “not safe'' for the homeless to live along the riverbed.

“And we're not going to close down a particular area and have them hopscotch to another area,'' Spitzer said.

Spitzer cited a hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego as one reason to do away with the encampments. He said he would urge county officials to open armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton for the winter earlier than November, which is typical, to accommodate transients moved out of the riverbed.

“My goal is to lock everybody out of the riverbed by the end of October,'' Spitzer said.

Anaheim City Council members will meet later Tuesday to consider collaborating with the county on the homeless issue on the flood control channels.

“It's complicated. It's one of the most complicated issues you can imagine,'' Mayor Tom Tait said. “Obviously, people shouldn't be living in the flood-control channel,'' het said. “It's not designed for that. It's for flood control... But the fact is they are and we have to now deal with it in a humane way.''

The city's focus is primarily on law enforcement in the encampment, Tait said.

“If people commit crimes there they will be held accountable whether they're homeless or not,'' Tait said.

Spitzer said part of the issue with law enforcement along the riverbed is that the county has had trouble forming an agreement on it with Anaheim.

“We have not been able to get a (Memorandum of Understanding) with the city of Anaheim for the enforcement of laws on the riverbed,'' Spitzer said.

“So I'm going to (the Anaheim council meeting) to testify in front of that council and say, `Look, what you're saying sounds great, but, one, we're already doing it, and, two, the fact is you have not signed an MOU with the sheriff, which has made it nearly impossible to the enforce the laws there.''

Undersheriff Don Barnes has issued a statement saying, “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.''

Barnes said the department has plan to expand outreach efforts to the homeless.

“Being homeless is not illegal, and we are called to protect the rights and civil liberties of everyone we serve,'' Barnes said.

“We will continue to collaborate with nonprofit and public safety agencies to offer a helping hand to those who have fallen on hard times, those battling mental illness and those struggling with addiction issues by connecting them with the appropriate resources and transitioning them out of the riverbed.''

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