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Mexican cultural center in Santa Ana makes agreement with city to clear homeless encampment

A man sweeps up trash at a homeless encampment.
About 40 people live on two parking lots at El Centro Cultural of México in Santa Ana.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

After facing fines and the threat of an abatement court order, a Mexican cultural center in Santa Ana has agreed to work with the city to clear a homeless encampment from its parking lots.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, homeless people have been living in the El Centro Cultural de México’s lots. The numbers have steadily grown to an encampment with more than 40 people.

El Centro, which is a linchpin for the local Latino community, has been fined about $1,800 by the city for not keeping the area clean.

But El Centro has continued to allow homeless people to live in the lots despite pressure from the city, contending that individuals without housing should not be criminalized.

The city sent El Centro a proposed plan last week to clear out the homeless encampment within 45 days. City Manager Kristine Ridge said in an interview that the city would work with El Centro as part of the plan by providing two resource fairs for homeless people, portable toilets and washing stations. The city will also waive the fines with El Centro’s commitment to clear the encampment.

The city gave El Centro a deadline of March 12 to agree to the plan, but officials at the center said they needed more time to consider the agreement.

If El Centro chose not to sign the agreement, the city would seek an abatement warrant from a judge, which would allow the city to take charge and “rectify the property conditions.”

Ben Vazquez, a longtime volunteer and board member with El Centro, said Tuesday night that the center signed the agreement and sent it to the city.

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Santa Ana spokesman Paul Eakins confirmed that the city received the signed agreement.

Vazquez said the decision was made largely in response to the threat of the abatement warrant.

But Vazquez said the portable bathrooms and wash stations will be beneficial for the homeless people on the lots. He also said it’s important for the center to get rid of the fines. El Centro’s finances have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Vazquez also said the agreement will give the homeless individuals a reprieve from harassment by police for at least the 45-day period. Vazquez said police have been throwing away homeless people’s belongings.

It will also provide the center with a chance to “come to the table with policymakers,” Vazquez said. “We want to talk with policymakers to help create positive change for folks who are unsheltered.”

Vazquez said the center didn’t see the encampment as a long-term answer. He said the center may reopen as COVID-19 numbers continue to improve, and it may need its parking lots back for community members attending the center.

“I believe they’re a well-meaning nonprofit,” Ridge said. “I think it’s an issue that they inherited and they took it on and they are extremely ill-equipped to deal with it.”

Ridge said the city has received a number of complaints from residents about the encampment.

A man sits in the parking lot of the cultural center.
Alex Beltran, 47, of Santa Ana said he has been living in the parking lot at El Centro for months.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

Vazquez said the goal is to connect homeless people with housing and shelters if they are receptive to it. If there are any homeless individuals still on the property after 45 days, Vazquez believes they will go somewhere else if El Centro asks them.

“We have a good relationship with the folks, and they know what we’ve been through, so I think they would just find another place,” he said. “I think they’re very grateful for what we’re going through.”

Brazil writes for Times Community News.


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