Roughly half of the nearly 700 homeless people removed from a large encampment in Orange County in February are now in some type of supportive shelter, according to a memo from the county released Monday afternoon.
Most of the remainder either declined county services, were evicted from county-funded motel rooms or left the motels on their own.
The memo is the first public accounting of the county's legally-mandated effort to clear the Santa Ana River homeless encampment and set its residents on a path to permanent housing. Advocates for the homeless filed a federal lawsuit against the county and several OC cities in January, alleging that homeless people were forced to live along the riverbed because of anti-camping laws and a lack of shelter space.
Federal Judge David O. Carter signed off on an initial agreement under which county officials agreed to pay for month-long motel stays for the homeless followed by referrals to appropriate shelter and supportive services.
The county’s report on the motel program comes in the midst of a fierce debate in Orange County over how and where to place new, emergency shelters, which Judge Carter has ordered.
Last week, the county Board of Supervisors nixed its own plan to set up temporary shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel. The reversal came after thousands of residents protested the plans and the cities threatened lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Judge Carter has ordered the county to clear out another large encampment, in the Santa Ana Civic Center, and find shelter for the some 150-200 homeless people living there.
On Monday, county social workers spread out across the civic center’s Plaza of the Flags to talk to homeless people one-on-one about their needs and options for shelter. Santa Ana Police Commander Ken Gominsky said nobody would be forced to move until the county identifies appropriate shelter.
“We will take no law enforcement action until they’ve been given options,” he said.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do tried to hold a meeting Monday to discuss ways to increase temporary shelter, but only one of his colleagues, Shawn Nelson, showed up, leaving him without a legal quorum.
Do said the negative rhetoric regarding homeless people needs to change.
“Instead of trying to monger fear, let’s try and work out a solution,” he said.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who joined Do, suggested that Judge Carter may have to force the county and OC cities to take action.
“For the cities who refuse to participate at all, (Carter) could just issue an injunction. … can’t enforce overnight camping or trespassing laws in your city on public spaces."
A hearing before Judge Carter is scheduled for April 3.