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Judge pushes for temporary housing for Santa Ana River homeless

Judge pushes for temporary housing for Santa Ana River homeless
Orange County officials plan to clear the county’s largest homeless encampment, a tent city along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim and Orange where several hundred people live. A temporary restraining order bars sheriff’s deputies from arresting homeless people who refuse to leave. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A federal judge Tuesday demanded that Orange County officials, cities and homeless advocates collaborate to find shelter for hundreds of homeless people who have been living in encampments along the Santa Ana River.

U.S. District Judge David Carter last week granted a temporary restraining order barring Orange County sheriff’s deputies from arresting homeless people who refuse to leave the camps.

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That order will stand until public officials can identify an alternative place to house homeless people living along the river trail. The goal, Carter said, is to create a temporary answer that can eventually be fashioned into a long-term housing solution.

Carter said he doesn’t want homeless people who leave the river trail to be cited by cities, put in jail for a day and then sent back to the streets, only to be cited again and have the process repeat itself.

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“I’m tired of the paperwork and the ‘We can’t get it done’ nonsense,” Carter said. “I’m looking for solutions now.”

Tuesday’s hearing was prompted by a lawsuit filed Jan. 29 seeking to halt a continuing effort to clear homeless people from the river trail. The suit also sought to prevent three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — from enforcing anti-camping, trespassing and loitering laws.

Carter said in a packed courtroom in Santa Ana that he plans to be in nearly continuous session over the next several days until a solution is hammered out.

“People are going to get killed out there while we’re talking in court,” he said, urging officials to act.

He also accused the county of “chipmunking” millions of dollars in federal and state resources that he said could be used to alleviate the concentration of homeless people along the river.

He pressed county officials to determine how much money could be allocated to provide temporary housing and food to the homeless.

“I can pledge to you my unwavering commitment that we will get to the bottom of what resources we have on hand,” said Andrew Do, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Do and Supervisor Todd Spitzer identified pieces of land in Santa Ana and Orange that could be used for temporary housing.

Carter also asked lawyers representing the cities named in the lawsuit whether there is open land that could provide a place for temporary accommodations.

James Touchstone, an attorney representing Costa Mesa, said it’s unlikely. He added that city officials have identified five people living on the river trail who have ties to Costa Mesa and that they’re working to get housing for them.

“The city of Costa Mesa can’t bear this burden alone,” Touchstone said. “It’s going to take cooperation.”

Carter was expected to visit the river trail early Wednesday — he didn’t specify when — to see the conditions firsthand and determine how many people live there.

He told attorneys that he wants to see evidence of available housing and shelter beds, as well as how often and why citations for camping and loitering are doled out.

“You have the power to move these people and I have the power to make sure they’re treated humanely,” Carter said.

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