Anaheim temporarily stops enforcing anti-camping laws against homeless

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For the time being, homeless people in Anaheim won’t have to worry about being roused from their sleep or having their stuff confiscated, as the Anaheim Police Department joins a few other Orange County cities that have decided to temporarily stop enforcing anti-camping laws.

Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada ordered officers to stop enforcement in an Oct. 6 memo:  “In response to community concerns, recent case law developments and to ensure we are providing our officers with updated training in this area, the Police Department, in consultation with the City Attorney’s Office is reexamining the application and enforcement of Chapter 11.10 of the Anaheim Municipal Code (AMB): Camping and Storage of Personal Property in Public Areas,” states a memo issued October 6.

The ordinance, adopted November 2013, makes it illegal and a public nuisance for someone to camp using tarps, cots, sleeping bags, bed and other “camping paraphernalia” in public places such as parks. It also prohibits people from keeping personal belongings “unattended” in public.

Several cities in Orange County have anti-camping ordinances on the books but several - including Santa Ana and Huntington Beach - have also temporarily stopped enforcement.

“Right now, we don’t enforce our unlawful camping ordinance,” said officer Brian Smith with the Huntington Beach Police Department. Smith served as the interim homeless outreach officer until the department recently hired a full-time liaison.

Officers also don’t enforce the city’s ordinance against people sleeping in cars, Smith said.

A bill introduced this summer in the California legislation would have protected homeless people who live in their cars from being fined or having their cars impounded by police but it died on the Senate floor.

Los Angeles city officials are reconsidering a ban on living in cars after the city lost a court challenge last year.

A Santa Ana police spokesman said officers do not enforce the city’s ordinance against camping however Santa Ana municipal code allows for “short-time, casual sleeping” in the Civic Center as long as it doesn’t appear that the person is using the area as “living accommodations.”

The temporary suspension of enforcement in Anaheim came after the activists wrote for the online news website Voice Of OC about harsh police tactics against the homeless and arrests.

“Thanks to the work of many dedicated individuals who video tape police and speak out for the homeless, Anaheim's Police Chief, Raul Quesada, has decided to halt all seizures of property that the homeless have with them until further review of our videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbEYkQsCwMI) and testimonies.”

The Anaheim Police Department would not specify how long the suspension last.  

Temporary suspension of anti-camping and storage laws mostly come after cities have been threatened by lawsuits or face immense pressure.

The ACLU sued Laguna Beach over enforcing its anti-camping ordinance, saying the homeless don't have a choice.

“Enforcing this ordinance against them, merely for sleeping in public, violates their civil rights,” said Heather Maria Johnson, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, Orange County branch.

The federal government is also weighing in. In September, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development announced that municipalities applying for homeless funding would be asked to explain how they are working to reduce criminalize the homeless.  

“That will push local governments in the right direction,” Johnson said.

Although there are a few year-round homeless shelters in Orange County, most are small and have restrictions on who can stay there. The ACLU is suing the city of Laguna Beach alleging it doesn’t provide enough shelter and housing for its disabled and mentally ill homeless residents who cannot stay at the shelter.

Orange County wants to build a 200-bed emergency homeless in Anaheim that would serve the whole county year-round. Currently, the county has two seasonal or winter-only shelters that operate at nights at the Fullerton and Santa Ana Armories.

Johnson said emergency shelters are needed in Orange County but in combination with permanent supportive housing for the homeless and wrap-around services.

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