Anaheim City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to declare a public health and safety emergency because of the hundreds of homeless people living along the Santa Ana River.
The declaration of emergency calls for a mix of stepped up enforcement of laws and health and safety codes and greater efforts to get homeless people into shelters and, eventually, permanent housing.
More than 400 homeless people are camped out along a 2-mile stretch of the Santa Ana River near Angel Stadium, according to a recent count. Residents and businesses have increasingly complained of unsanitary conditions and crime in and around the camps.
Dozens of people showed up to support the emergency declaration.
“I’m here to plead with you all to take action and take it tonight,” resident Elissa Goodwin told the city council. Goodwin, who lives near the river, called the proposal a "balance of compassion for those who want help and tough love for those who don’t.”
However, others worried that the proposal focused too much on law enforcement and would trample homeless people’s civil rights.
"We need to get out of this narrative that frames poor people as a public health and safety threat,” said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The declaration, which was proposed by Councilwoman Kris Murray, calls for expediting the expansion of a county shelter that opened earlier this year in Anaheim and for supporting county efforts to open a second emergency shelter with 500 beds.
It also calls for collaborating with the county sheriff and other local law enforcement agencies to patrol the homeless encampments — and ultimately clear them altogether.
Murray said the homeless situation had reached a "crisis point."
“We’re hearing a number of community voices, and they’re growing louder,” she said.
Councilman Jose Moreno, who created a homeless policy working group earlier this year, noted that many of Murray’s proposed actions were already in the works.
“It seems to me that what this does is it coordinates all the work that we’re already doing and gives it a name,” said Moreno, who often spars with Murray on the dais. Still, he ultimately voted in favor of the declaration.
There are an estimated 4,800 homeless people living in Orange County, according to the 2017 Point in Time count, which tallies people sleeping in shelters or on the streets on one night in January.
More than half of homeless people in OC sleep outside, not in shelters, and the number of unsheltered people has increased by 17 percent since 2015.
The county only has about 2,500 shelter beds, according to a 2016 survey.
The Anaheim Police Department is already in talks with the OC Sheriff’s Department and neighboring police departments to step up patrols along the Santa Ana River. The sheriff and the police departments of Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Orange and Anaheim are scheduled to begin patrols Friday as a joint task force.
Anaheim will dedicate two officers to the task force and two additional officers to work with the city’s homeless outreach team along the river.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted earlier this year to dedicate $750,000 towards a plan to move people out of the river area and into shelters or permanent housing.
Anaheim's move follows a similar emergency declaration by the city of Los Angeles in 2015.