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Cities in north Orange County step up with housing for homeless, with Santa Ana leading the way

Cities in north Orange County step up with housing for homeless, with Santa Ana leading the way
U.S. District Judge David Carter, far right, greets homeless residents Frank Fabozzi, 56, left, and Amy Potter, 47, while surveying the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2018. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Following the high-profile removal of an illegal tent city near Angel Stadium, representatives of 13 cities in north Orange County on Monday say they are stepping up to offer a regional solution to temporary housing for the homeless — with Santa Ana leading the way.

A shelter with 200 beds is nearly ready to open at an unnamed location in Santa Ana, according to officials. The staff at the nonprofit Mercy House — whose mission is to end homelessness locally — will be contracted to run the facility. The federal judge handling the civil rights lawsuits over the clearance of the homeless encampments called the plan “a role model for the county.”

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On Monday, Judge David O. Carter said to residents, officials and supporters of the homeless at a hearing that he has toured the site twice. He said the efforts being made to help street populations in the area represent “a journey no other county has taken.”

Costa Mesa will sign on soon to a 12-bed crisis center and a 50 bed-facility expected to open by next summer. Tustin is planning for a 50-bed shelter run by the Orange County Rescue Mission. Anaheim is partnering with the Salvation Army to launch a 200-bed operation and has another 125-bed project planned on private property owned by businessman Bill Taormina.

“This means that more of the homeless will be inside at the start of the rainy season,” said Brooke Weitzman, an attorney representing seven homeless adults against the county and several cities, who sought to prevent their evictions from the illegal encampment. “We are so glad to see that these cities are showing goodwill, and especially that Santa Ana has cut through the red tape to assemble a team to take quick action.”

The legal settlement between advocates for the homeless and officials from Orange County stalled at the hearing Monday, while many cities in south Orange County have refused to offer temporary housing.

Lawyers for the homeless and the county unveiled a draft agreement last week that committed to shelter options suited for a range of homeless needs, including for those who are victims of domestic abuse and violence.

Areas of ongoing negotiation include:

  • Developing procedures to guarantee due process for the indigent.

  • Figuring out how to store property seized from individuals and couples.

  • Creating guidelines to respond to those seeking accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a separate lawsuit filed in February, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, working on behalf of the People’s Homeless Task Force and seven disabled adults who lived at the riverbed, maintained that evictions are discriminatory and that officials didn’t have adequate services in place for their clients with special needs.

Plaintiffs in both cases accused officials of trying to criminalize homelessness. At the hearing Monday, cities in the southern part of the county came under attack for their inaction.

“I will not support a settlement without all cities named in the lawsuit,” said Andrew Do, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “North and central Orange County are building homeless shelter space, while south county is rewarded for fear-mongering and obstruction. … Santa Ana, Orange, Costa Mesa and Anaheim cannot continue to bear the full burden of this countywide crisis.”

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