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Why Anaheim officials are committed to clearing out tent city




Homeless Junior Sanchez, 29, carries a tarp he found in a pile of trash in a homeless encampment on the Santa Ana River trail near Angel Stadium Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif.
Homeless Junior Sanchez, 29, carries a tarp he found in a pile of trash in a homeless encampment on the Santa Ana River trail near Angel Stadium Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. "Toughest part being homeless is getting a plate of food and a shower," said Sanchez who said he became homeless after losing his job as cook. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/AP

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Orange County is clearing the Santa Ana River Trail, where as many as 500 homeless people have been living in a sprawling tent city. This week, government officials began telling them they need to leave. But many who live along the trail are unsure where they'll go. 

"When I asked people where do you plan to go, people would say, 'I have no idea,'" said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union in Orange County.

Garrow was at the river trail Monday. She spoke with some of the people who live there.

"There were a lot of tears; there was a lot of anxiety. It was just actually quite devastating," Garrow said.

Those who live near the Santa Ana River Trail have complained about the homeless there for years. It's raised safety and health concerns for local government officials, which is what prompted them to begin to clear the area.

"There's been broad-based outreach and services for months now in anticipation of closing these encampments," said Kris Murray, Councilwoman for the city of Anaheim.

Murray said that the various outreach services have yielded promising results.

"We have helped more than 255 since September alone safely exit the streets and to either temporary shelter or into rehabilitation or connecting veterans and individuals who are eligible for veterans affairs."

Murray said getting people out of this three-mile tent city is part of a larger effort to get them help. In short, it's not just a removal effort.

"The absolute priority is to connect individuals with service," Murray said.

While Garrow understands the concerns about the tent city, both from city residents and people who are staying along the trail in tents, she still wants the people there treated with respect during the process.

"I agree that this [tent city] is not a safe or an appropriate place for anybody to be living," Garrow said. "I don't think that the answer, though, is to remove people really without giving them a place to go, a safe and legal alternative. So people will just end up in some other unsheltered location."