83% of homeless living in the Santa Ana River Trail encampments are refusing offers of assistance, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD).
Members of the department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) have made 1,093 contacts and offered a variety of resources to the individuals encamped in the area. Deputies, in some cases, made multiple contacts with the same individual in an attempt to secure services.
Of the more than 1,000 contacts made by the Sheriff’s Department, 910 refused help from law enforcement.
These figures cover the six weeks since the OCSD commenced law enforcement operations focused on the SART homeless village. They track with the experience of the Orange Police Department, which has longest ongoing law enforcement engagement on the SART. In a September 26, 2017 presentation to the Orange City Council, Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela reported that of 851 offers of resources made by the OPD to transients between January 1 and August 31, only 5 were accepted.
Since last month, the OCSD also reports making 180 arrests since it began targeting the large and growing criminal element in the SART encampments on September 16. Since June, county-contracted social service providers have relocated 94 homeless out of the SART encampment.
Estimates of the SART homeless village population range from a very conservative 400 to nearly a 1,000. The unanswered question is whether those 94 souls represent a net reduction in the SART homeless population, or whether more homeless have taken their places.
There is some cause for optimism that that is not the case: the primary reason the homeless migrated to the SART encampments was the absence of enforcement: they could illegally camp and engage in illegal activities without fear of the law being enforced. On top of that, the misguided compassion of church groups of others enabled this “home free” lifestyle with a steady stream of services such as free food, equipment and other amenities such as free laundry and even coffee service.
County Moving To Close Down Homeless Encampments By Sections
Undersheriff Don Barnes is spearheading the coordinated, multi-jurisdiction plan of attack to reclaim the Santa Ana River Trail for the taxpaying public. Beginning November 10, the County will permanently bar public use of the west side of the Santa Ana River between 17th Street and Adams Avenue.
First to go will be the SART transient camp in Fountain Valley.The 80 or so homeless individuals camping on the SART will have to move out by then. They will be offered the full array of social services, although it is an open question whether they’ll accept such assistance or choose to pursue a homeless lifestyle elsewhere.
The County will also move to more strictly control Santa Ana River Trail access by strictly enforcing public use hours and installing gated access points along the trail, according to a County press release issued yesterday:
To encourage compliance and reinforce the publicly posted hours, the County will install additional signage in prominent locations and will install pedestrian gates at entrances to the SART. Sign installation will begin on October 30, 2017. Gate installation will begin in late 2017 and is anticipated to be completed in mid-2018. Once installed, the areas between the gates will be patrolled by law enforcement during public access hours, and the gates will be locked daily at the posted trail closing time.
The exception will be the actual SART homeless village running more than two miles between the I-5 Freeway and Ball Road/Taft Avenue – where transients already ignore trespassing and no-camping laws and the signage prominently advertising those prohibitions. They will remain, for the time being, under the protection of federal District Judge David Carter, who provides them with a limited dispensation from obeying those laws.
The Santa Ana River Trail encampment is located in the 3rd Supervisor District, which is represented by Supervisor Todd Spitzer – who is now running for OC District Attorney. It was on Spitzer’s watch that the SART transient camp quickly ballooned to hundreds of tents and became a magnet for criminal transients released from incarceration under AB 109 and Prop. 47.
Having allowed the transient tent city to exploded to such huge proportions, the only practical approach is to reduce the encampment in stages. At a community forum earlier this month, 4th District Supervisor Shawn Nelson acknowledged as much and stated the County would begin clearing out it in sections.
The Fountain Valley homeless camp is the logical first choice, since it is smaller and physically detached from the main encampment on the Anaheim-Orange boundary. By removing it, barring public use of another six-mile stretch of the SART, and strictly controlling access to the rest of the trail surrounding the Big A/Rampart/the Corral encampments puts the County to steadily shrink those encampments while preventing more homeless from taking the place of those who are re-located.
Absent such measures, efforts to re-locate the homeless from the SART will amount to treading water. At the same time, the effort being led by Undersheriff Don Barnes, in tandem with Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray’s Operation Home S.A.F.E. initiative, represents necessary first steps to successfully responding to the demand by 14,000-plus Orange Countians who signed the online petition demanding an end to the SART encampments.