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Lawsuits seek halt to homeless evictions along Santa Ana River

The remains of a homeless encampment cleared from land along the Santa Ana River owned by Orange County Public Works, Feb. 8, 2017.
The remains of a homeless encampment cleared from land along the Santa Ana River owned by Orange County Public Works, Feb. 8, 2017.
Jill Replogle

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Two lawsuits have been filed in the last week to try and stop evictions of homeless people from encampments along the Santa Ana River in Orange County. 

The county began removing camps last week in order to store boulders and sand for flood control on county land next to the river near the I-5 bridge. One of the lawsuits accuses the county of violating homeless people’s due process rights by seizing their property without a reasonable way for them to reclaim it.

The county posted notices along the river in late January informing campers they needed to move and detailing how to reclaim seized possessions. The notices said seized property would be held at a storage facility in Lake Forest — more than 20 miles away and a two-and-a-half hour bus ride. 

The notices stated that people could pick up property at the facility each Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. and listed a phone number to make an appointment for pick up. 

Brooke Weitzman, one of the lawyers behind the lawsuit, called the process "unreasonable and inhumane" at the Tuesday meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The lawsuit cites a district court ruling last year ordering the City of Los Angeles to store possessions seized from the homeless for at least 90 days in a facility open during regular business hours. 

That court ruling also said seized property should be catalogued so that the owner can find and reclaim it. 

County spokesperson Carrie Braun said the county does its best to identify the owners of seized items. She said since OC Public Works began clearing encampments from along the river last week, employees have helped affected persons gather their belongings and label possessions for storage. 

She said the county had cleared out around six encampments in its first two days of work last week, affecting an estimated 12 to 20 people. Braun said an estimated 200 to 250 homeless people live in the area that’s to be vacated between Angel Stadium and the Highway 22 overpass.

The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the evictions. That suit alleges that fencing erected around the project area by Public Works imprisons homeless people in the area and adds to their already perilous situation.