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Federal judge tours O.C. armory as he works toward homeless solution

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter gathered local officials and law enforcement early Tuesday at the Santa Ana Armory to observe what homeless people do when they leave that seasonal shelter.

The tour’s aim was to gauge the adequacy of the armory, which, along with another armory in Fullerton, is serving a more prominent role in the county’s homelessness efforts after two prominent encampments in the Santa Ana riverbed and Civic Center were removed.

Carter is overseeing a federal case launched by homelessness advocates that attempted to stop the removal of the riverbed encampment, which was cleared out in late February. He toured the riverbed camp before its closure.

By 5:30 a.m., Carter’s group watched as the last of the homeless filtered out of the shelter at 612 E. Warner Ave. Neighbors and surrounding businesses have complained about the spread of homeless people into the community in the mornings.

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Brooke Weitzman, who is behind the lawsuit and is co-founder of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center in Santa Ana, said at the morning tour that the armory cannot sufficiently take care of the homeless situation because there is nowhere for individuals to go during the day. The armories do not have enough beds to serve Orange County’s homeless: Each has a capacity of about 200.

Because of that, Weitzman believes it’s incumbent on cities to refrain from enforcing anti-camping and loitering ordinances. Weitzman argued against enforcing anti-camping laws in the original complaint.

The county has been attempting to find a place for the uprooted homeless. A proposal to place temporary shelters in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach was rescinded in late March.

The armories only operate in the winter. Although they were expected to close on April 15, the armories received a 90-day extension from Gov. Jerry Brown earlier that month.

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U.S. District Judge David Carter, left, Lou Noble, center, a homeless activist, and Deputy Chief Ken
U.S. District Judge David Carter, left, Lou Noble, center, a homeless activist, and Acting Deputy Chief Ken Gominsky of the Santa Ana Police Department walk past a tent along railroad tracks near Goetz Avenue and Main Street in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 5.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer )

After observing the armory, Carter led the group to the Mental Health Assn. of Orange County on Main Street where he spoke with a representative about the clients it deals with from the armory.

A short walk farther down Main, he turned down a gravel road bordering train tracks. In his black suit, Carter walked the uneven ground, stepping over abandoned railroad beams.

A man emerged from a tent as the group passed. Trash lay about the area.

Santa Ana police Acting Deputy Chief Ken Gominsky said the tracks are where homeless congregate, though the area looks better now than in the past.

Orange County Executive Officer Frank Kim said he has witnessed the flow of homeless people in the community surrounding the armory.

The armories “function quite well” and the county offers a morning bus that ferries homeless people to the Courtyard shelter in Santa Ana, Kim said.

“Like any community dealing with homeless challenges, we can always design more programs,” Kim said. “The county is not in its final form yet. There is more to be done.”

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Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait also said more needs to be done to rectify the homeless situation in the county.

“There needs to be more permanent housing and more shelter beds that don’t dump the homeless out in the early morning,” Tait said.

Tait said he valued the way Carter was dealing with the homelessness issue.

“The county owes him a debt of gratitude,” Tait said. “He’s unorthodox, but that’s what it takes to get everybody working together.”

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot


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