Plans to increase the number of shelter beds in Santa Ana, Anaheim and Costa Mesa revealed at federal court hearing
SANTA ANA – The federal civil rights lawsuit sparked by the clearing of the riverbed homeless tent encampments moved close to settlement Friday, Sept. 7, after an all-day court session.
The session included discussion of potential agreements that could add up to 600 emergency shelter beds in the north and central parts of Orange County over the next few months.
Longer-term plans for facilities of 200 or more beds that would offer more comprehensive services are also on the drawing board in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
The issue of providing more shelter beds in south Orange County remained unresolved, however. No representatives of any south county city attended Friday’s hearing.
The upshot: lawyers said they would be amending their complaint to name the south county cities, giving U.S. District Judge David O. Carter the authority to order them into court.
Attorney Carol Sobel said an amended complaint will be filed shortly.
Carter, who has made it clear since hearings began seven months ago that he preferred to see the parties involved reach a settlement rather than litigate, appeared pleased to hear of the plans for the new shelters. At the start of Friday’s proceedings, he had said he would not be granting any more continuances.
Settle or litigate, he told the lawyers and government officials who packed the first two rows of his crowded courtroom, adding that he was worried about the rain and cold weather that winter will bring.
Separate settlements were being worked out with the county and the three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — named as defendants in the original suit filed in late January on behalf of seven homeless people and a nonprofit that provides homeless services. That complaint was amended months later to be a class-action.
A second lawsuit, filed in early February, involves seven disabled plaintiffs who were also uprooted from the encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail near Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Carter has been hearing the two lawsuits in tandem.
Santa Ana became engaged in the federal court proceedings at its own request and filed a countersuit against all the other cities in Orange County, hoping to force a broader regional solution with those communities taking on their “fair share” of providing shelter and services to the homeless population.
Santa Ana has yet to serve those cities.
But the city approved a memorandum of understanding with the county earlier this week to create up to 600 shelter beds that would serve homeless people in the city and from elsewhere in the central service planning area.
City shelter plans
At Friday’s hearing, the city also revealed plans for an interim 200-bed shelter that would serve Santa Ana only and possibly be up and running in 60 to 90 days.
A 50-bed temporary emergency shelter could also be available in 30 to 45 days.
Anaheim representatives outlined plans for a temporary 200-bed shelter to be created with portable buildings on the Salvation Army property at 1300 S. Lewis Street that could be operating in 90 days, along with the Salvation Army’s plans for a 400-bed comprehensive “Center of Hope” that would later incorporate the temporary shelter.
Costa Mesa said it would open a 12-bed crisis stabilization unit for people experiencing acute mental health issues, along with establishing 50 emergency shelter beds. Orange representatives announced that their city will be helping to fund 100-bed shelters to be located in two other undisclosed cities.
The judge granted lawyers for all the plaintiffs and the three defendant cities 45 days to complete their settlement agreements.
A draft proposal to resolve issues over standards and procedures that govern the treatment of homeless clients placed in county-operated programs and shelters is expected to be ready by the end of next week, with a written agreement presented to Carter on Sept. 19.
Adding to the pressure to develop more shelter beds: a ruling in a Boise, Idaho, case issued earlier in the week by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs California and other western states.
It prevents local jurisdictions from issuing citations or arresting homeless people for sleeping overnight on public property, such as a park, if they don’t have access to appropriate shelter elsewhere.
Communities throughout Orange County, like other cities around California, have anti-camping and trespassing ordinances that advocates have long argued only serve to criminalize homeless people.
A previous court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles, ended with a similar conclusion as the Boise case, but because a settlement was reached, law enforcement in many communities did not feel bound by it.
Carter reminded everyone about the Boise ruling, “that’s the law of the land.”
During an interview in the courthouse hallway at the close of the hearing, Sobel said tickets and arrests can still be made for crimes such as theft or drug possession.
But if law enforcement agencies in any communities governed by the Ninth Circuit Court ruling issue anti-camping tickets to a homeless person, she said: “They’d be doing it at their own peril.”