OC Supervisors Approve Plan for Housing for Riverbed Homeless

SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Orange County Board of Supervisors today approved spending for 400 motel vouchers and food and plans to expand temporary housing elsewhere to handle an influx of transients living along the Santa Ana riverbed, who will be forced to leave by Tuesday.

The supervisors unanimously approved the plan, much of which was worked out in a federal courtroom under the threat of a preliminary injunction that would have dictated how they handled transients moved out of the riverbed.

The supervisors budgeted $180,000 for the food vouchers for the 400 some homeless people living in the riverbed encampments between Taft Avenue, Ball Road and Memory Lane.

The county also will add 92 beds at the Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim, which has been opened in stages and is still being completed. Officials say tents may be erected in the shelter's parking lot if necessary.

If there aren't enough motel rooms officials are also poised to put up tented shelters at other county locations, including near the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana.

The WISEPlace shelter for women in Santa Ana will get 100 more beds to handle victims fleeing domestic abuse.

County social workers will also work with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs and other area agencies to bring services to veterans on the riverbed.

The transients on the riverbed will be offered motel vouchers for 30 days and other services Tuesday morning. Anyone refusing to go faces the threat of a trespassing citation.

While the homeless are in the motels officials will work to find them more permanent housing and shelter.

The average rate of the motel rooms is $75 to $125 nightly, according to Orange County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim.

``This is a collective effort of a lot of people,'' Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do said. ``First and foremost, we did this with the guidance of Judge Carter.''

Do extolled praise on county staff for working long hours in court to hammer out the plan.

``I have never seen resolve like I witnessed in the last few days while we've been in litigation,'' Do said. ``They worked late into the night every day this week.''

Do also praised officials from area cities who contributed to the settlement, particularly leaders in Santa Ana.

Santa Ana Councilman Jose Solorio, however, asked the county to not put all or most of the transients in Santa Ana motel rooms. He also sounded concerns about setting up temporary shelter near the Orange County Registrar of Voters offices.

``We'd like to see the county work with as many cities as possible so the vouchers are used countywide,'' Solorio said.

Solorio praised the county's new shelter in Anaheim, saying it has likely made the area ``cleaner and safer than it was before.''

Supervisor Todd Spitzer praised Do for his leadership as chairman and said it was Do's longtime working relationship as an attorney often in Judge Carter's courtrooms that likely established the judge's faith in the county's intentions.

``I do not believe we would be here at all without you,'' Spitzer said to Do.

Judge Carter ``changed the entire dynamic'' of the legal proceeding by forcing both sides to work on a settlement, Spitzer said.

``There were days when a handshake meant something, and I think that's what this is,'' Spitzer said.

The county could add 32 beds to the shelter in Anaheim and provide an additional 60 with tents in the parking lot.

A fleet yard in Orange can also be used to erect a tent to set up 100 beds.

In all, the county believes it can provide 700 to 800 more beds, Do said.

The temporary housing is being offered as part of an agreement brokered in part by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to resolve litigation over county and municipal efforts to clear the Santa Ana riverbed encampment.

Under an agreement with homeless advocates, the county will provide temporary housing and work to find permanent solutions for the homeless, who will have to move out of the encampment by Tuesday.

Homeless advocates had sued over plans to clear the camp, arguing there was nowhere for the transients to go.

Carter toured the encampment early Wednesday morning with county and other officials, who began notifying people living there that they will have to vacate the area next week.

Carter said in court that he wanted to avoid an endless cycle of citing homeless people for trespassing, which leads to them serving jail time since they can't pay the fine, and ending with them returning to the riverbed. Worse, he said, was the possibility that the hundreds along the riverbed would flee to surrounding cities, where they would be cited and arrested, and again find themselves in the ``revolving door of citations.''

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including several homeless people who live on the riverbed, wanted Carter to block the county and the cities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange from enforcing anti-camping laws along the riverbed and the surrounding cities until alternative housing was found. Last week, Carter granted a temporary restraining order when county officials made it clear to the plaintiffs that they intended to begin enforcing anti-camping and trespass laws along the riverbed.

Orange County Catholic Worker, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, argued that county officials have failed for years to provide affordable housing for the area's needy and that its homeless shelters are overcrowded.

Orange County officials, however, said they have plenty of beds available.

The problem, they said, is that many transients have refused outreach services, choosing to live on the streets rather than abide by the rules at shelters, such as abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

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