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'Eye-popping' number of hypodermic needles, pounds of waste cleared from Orange County riverbed homeless encampment

'Eye-popping' number of hypodermic needles, pounds of waste cleared from Orange County riverbed homeless encampment
A bicyclist rides past piles of trash from the Santa Ana River homeless camp after it was cleared and more than 700 people relocated in Anaheim in February. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Crews from the Orange County Public Works department have collected nearly 14,000 hypodermic needles and cleared more than 5,000 pounds of hazardous waste — including human waste — from the vast homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River trail.

The numbers, released last week, represent cleanup work done from Jan. 22 to March 3 along a two-mile stretch of trail spanning the 5 Freeway in Orange to Ball Road in Anaheim.

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The tally — 404 tons of debris, 13,950 needles and 5,279 pounds of waste — is "simply eye-popping," said Shannon Widor, Orange County Public Works spokesman.

"Nothing of this magnitude involving our crews and homeless populations has ever been done before in the county," he said.

He said the waste included propane, pesticides, solvent and paint. "We've kind of seen it all. It's a good thing it's been hauled away. People tend to lose sight that this area is part of a flood control channel, and debris can keep spreading and impact water quality," he added.

Last month, county officials moved more than 700 people living at the encampment near Angel Stadium into motels and shelters temporarily, assigning workers from the Orange County Health Care Agency to conduct assessments of the homeless to help connect them to support services.

Through March 2, 221 clinical assessments have been completed — with 493 referrals given to social services, veterans services, public health and behavioral health and more, county spokeswoman Jen Nentwig said.

The cleanup at the trail is part of an environmental remediation project that will focus on tree trimming, removing 2 to 3 inches of soil and working with Orange County Parks to repair the bicycle path, Widor said.

Twitter: @newsterrier

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