Orange County leaders Thursday approved a plan to provide motel vouchers, food and other services for about 400 homeless people living in encampments along the Santa Ana River trail.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously during a special meeting to fund the emergency aid package as part of an agreement hammered out over several days among attorneys representing homeless people, the county and three cities named in a federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed Jan. 29, sought to halt the county's ongoing effort to clear the homeless from the river trail and prevent Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange from enforcing anti-camping, trespassing and loitering laws.
The approved package includes motel vouchers that can be renewed on a week-by-week basis for a minimum of 30 days, food vouchers for those who move to motels and 90-day storage of personal belongings. The county will complete an assessment of homeless people housed in motels during the 30 days to pair them with appropriate support services, including a shelter or housing, according to the signed document filed in court.
“This is a new era, a new period in our county’s history,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said. “I think there’s a level of comfort and trust that we can work together and put together a system … that will take care of people.”
The board directed county staff to expand the shelter capacity at Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim and negotiate an agreement with WISEPlace, a women’s shelter in Santa Ana, to provide 100 beds.
County officials also have ordered pop-up tents and are working to retrofit two county-owned properties in Orange and Santa Ana that could provide temporary housing after motel vouchers expire.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer called the agreement a “handshake, good-faith deal.”
During court hearings this week, U.S. District Judge David Carter pressed the sides to negotiate an agreement that would move people from the flood control channel and provide them a place to go. Carter has said he doesn’t want homeless people who leave to be cited by cities, put in jail for a day and then sent back to the streets, only to be cited again.
“I’m tired of the paperwork and the ‘we can't get it done’ nonsense,” Carter said Tuesday. “I’m looking for solutions now.”
Based on the board’s vote, Carter is expected to set an expiration date of 9 a.m. Tuesday for a temporary restraining order he approved last week that barred county sheriff’s deputies from arresting homeless people who refuse to leave the encampments. That means the camps between Taft Avenue/Ball Road and Memory Lane will probably begin being dismantled Tuesday, an effort expected to take several days.
Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero said the board’s vote does not affect the status of the lawsuit from the city’s perspective. Carter has not made any ruling that would prohibit individual cities from enforcing anti-camping laws.
Lou Noble, a homeless advocate, said the agreement is a step forward but that more work is needed to help the county’s homeless population.
“It’s not just giving them free housing but developing them to be part of society again,” he told the supervisors Thursday.