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Settlement ends 18-month battle surrounding Orange County homeless lawsuit

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter takes photos at a homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim in 2018.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)
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A federal judge called an agreement between Orange County and attorneys representing homeless individuals a model for how county governments should care for those in need of shelter.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter signed the pact Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Santa Ana, following unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors last week.

“You’re far in front of any other county in this state, and I hope the governor recognizes that,” Carter said.

His signature ends an 18-month legal battle that started with a lawsuit filed in January 2018 that blocked the county’s effort to clear homeless people who have set up camp along the Santa Ana River trail and prevent three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — from enforcing anti-camping, trespassing and loitering laws.

First District Supervisor Andrew Do, who led the county’s negotiations with homeless advocates, read a statement that was entered into the court record.

“To say that this is a momentous occasion is to undersell the watershed moment that it is,” Do said.

The agreement requires that homeless individuals be allowed to consult with county health care, social workers or county-contracted service providers before deputy sheriffs can enforce anti-camping and anti-loitering laws.

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County officials will prohibit sheriff’s deputies from transporting homeless individuals across the three “service planning areas” — North, Central and South County — to house them at a shelter. For example, deputies can no longer move a homeless person from Mission Viejo to Santa Ana.

After giving a homeless person a reasonable opportunity to move their belongings, deputies can move the homeless from O.C. Flood Control District property, John Wayne Airport, county libraries after they’ve closed for the day, contracted railroad areas and county property otherwise not open to the public.

The settlement also addresses homeless advocates’ complaints about the unsanitary conditions of county-funded homeless shelters. The county reaffirmed its commitments to providing facilities that are accessible, clean, safe and pest-free.

Do said he is optimistic the agreement will help the county overcome its conservative image and a stigma that it’s adverse to caring for those without shelter.

“This will hopefully dispel some of that,” he said.

Attorney Carol Sobel said the settlement doesn’t mark the end of advocates’ discussions with the county on caring for its homeless population.

Although planned service centers in Placentia and Buena Park will provide beds to the homeless, there’s still work to do on increasing the emergency capacity, she said.

“We don’t have enough, but we sure have a lot more than when we started litigation,” Sobel said.