At judge's urging, sides reach deal to help homeless

By Amy Taxin
Associated Press
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Working at the demand of a federal judge in a case that could have broad influence, public officials and homeless advocates have reached an agreement providing motel rooms and other shelter for homeless people who are being kicked out of an encampment in a Southern California riverbed.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter has boldly and unconventionally stepped into the process of the eviction.

This week, he made the rare move of insisting the two sides get together for several hours and come up with a solution.

“We’re going to solve it right here,” Carter said. “I’m tired of the paperwork, ‘We can’t get it done,’ nonsense.”

Carter called on Orange County officials, veterans, women’s advocates and others to step up and offer solutions for those living on the 2-mile stretch of riverbed trail once popular with joggers and bikers that has been overrun by tents, trash and human waste.

Carter took a brisk walk at dawn Wednesday past scores of tents surrounded by trash. He was followed by an entourage of three dozen lawyers, Orange County workers, nonprofit staff and local officials.

Carter grilled officials about how to remove syringes littered on the ground, lack of access to bathrooms for the homeless and who is and isn't willing to move to motel rooms the county will offer as the encampment is shut down.

He also stopped and spoke with homeless residents, asking what they needed to be able to move from the camp on a trail alongside a riverbed.

Carter is overseeing a lawsuit filed by homeless advocates over the planned closure of the encampment on the county-owned trail.

The suit claims tent dwellers were driven there by crackdowns on the homeless in nearby cities.

Orange County, home to 3.2 million people between Los Angeles and San Diego, started telling the homeless last month officials were closing the encampment of tents and tarps and offering to store belongings and help find shelter.

Homeless advocates sued and sought protection from the courts when they heard authorities were going to start citing or arresting people who refused to budge.

The case is being watched by homeless advocates along the West Coast and elsewhere grappling with a rise in homelessness caused in part by soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy.

The ruling will only cover people living in the encampment near the stadium that hosts the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but homeless advocates elsewhere might look to the case to make similar claims, experts said.

“These are issues that are being litigated around the country,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “What the court decides may be used by these litigants and may be looked to by other courts, even if it is not binding.”

When they emerged from discussions, Orange County officials said they would use motels and other means to get 700 to 800 beds for the homeless driven from the encampment in Anaheim.

“We pledge up to 400 motel rooms, immediately,” County Supervisor Andrew Do told the court, adding that the county would also add beds to other facilities and could put up a tent on a county-owned parking lot if space was needed.

Brooke Weitzman, an attorney for the plaintiffs seeking to stop the eviction, said she was concerned that the tent dwellers would not trust county officials’ offer of help on such short notice, but Carter told her notices would go up as soon as Wednesday and he trusted their word.

He said he suspected homeless residents who don’t want help, and want to wander, will move elsewhere.

“Some will take advantage and some won’t,” Carter said. “Some who want to wander will wander. Some who want to leave will leave.”

The sides agreed that social workers would help the homeless find longer term housing after the initial relocation, which will take place in a week.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Carter peppered advocates and county workers with questions about programs, policies and budgets.

He said he believes Orange County has enough money to find a fix and should be spending it.

He also said a cluster of cities near the riverbed should help after pushing the homeless off their streets and sidewalks to the county-owned trail.


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