The Orange City Council this week took several steps to combat the growing problem of homelessness in the city, including dedicating two police officers to handle homeless calls, increasing the budget for private security in city parks by nearly 60% and adopting an “aggressive panhandling” ordinance.
The actions took place at a special council meeting devoted to the issue of homelessness. The council chamber was packed with concerned and upset homeowners, along with a few homeless advocates from Anaheim and some student SJWs from Chapman University.
Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela gave an in-depth presentation in which he detailed the history of homeless-law enforcement interaction in Orange, explained the size and distribution of the homeless population in the city and how the Orange police are currently dealing with it.
According to Chief Kisela, the city’s homeless population historically had been concentrated in the Santiago Creek bed, a location that is still home to a fluctuating transient population of 15-40 people. The bulk of the transient population within Orange city boundaries are those living in the tent city along the Santa Ana River Trail (SART).
Chief Kisela told the council there were approximately 619 “encampments” along the SART, each of which could contain multiple homeless people. Although he included CityNet’s estimate of 422 transients, Chief Kisela stated the number is continually in flux but he is more comfortable with “600-ish” homeless living along the SART.
Kisela told the mayor and councilmembers that the homeless population broke down into foru basic categories:
- Economically homeless: individuals and/or families who are homeless due to job loss or other drastic financial reversal. The chief said these are the simplest population to help.
- Mentally ill
- Homeless by choice
- The criminally homeless
The Orange Police Department is the only agency that conducted law enforcement activity in the SART camps until two weeks ago, when the OC Sheriff’s Department commenced patrols. Chief Kisela said that based on his department’s experience, 90% of the transients living in the SART encampments fall into the criminally homeless category.
Kisela noted the department’s Homeless Engagement Assistance Resource Team (HEART) unit balances its efforts between the SART and the rest of Orange. In 2017 to date, the HEART team offered resources, assistance and shelter to homeless individuals on 851 occasions, but only 5 people accepted those offers.
Chief Kisela noted that few if any denizens of the SART encampments trekked to nearby Mary’s Kitchen, which provides free meals, laundry service and showers to transients and the destitute. He said that is because goods and services are brought to the SART by well-meaning people. These include food, clothes, tents, mattresses, laundry service, coffee service, generators and BBQs.
Chief Kisela stated his belief that AB 109 and Prop. 47 are primarily to blame for the explosion of the SART homeless encampments. The combination of releasing tens of thousands of criminals from jail and reducing a host of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors means there are a lot of people living along the SART who ought to be in jail or prison – and the hands of police are largely tied.
The city council moved to appoint ad hoc committees to prerss the county for more resources and re-negotiate the MOU with the County of Orange to reimburse Orange for its active enforcement role on the SART.
Councilman Fred Whitaker said that while he glad about “the sheriff’s patrols [the Orange County Board of Supervisors] approved in the riverbed, but to me they’re insufficient.”
“I really believe that [the SART encampments] actually should be a full, manned staff reporting area. That requires additional resources from the county. So I think that is something I think the ad hoc committee should undertake.”
Earlier today, Councilman Mike Alvarez e-mailed out an update:
Hello Orange Residents…….
As we move into the weekend I want to share some news….
I feel the Council meeting was a good indication of where the city has been, concerning the homeless issue. However, going forward I will be working on some goals and milestones that I will want the Police Chief to achieve as we move into the next phase of the homeless enforcement…The City manager and I have begun our discussion on how the City will be communicating the City’s activities in the homeless area, to all of you….but this does not replace coming to the city council meetings, its important that you continue to be there and to show your concerns….
Starting next week, the City’s public works and Community Services will be down in Santiago Creek, just south of Chapman Ave, from Chapman ave to the 55fwy doing a lot of brush removal to eliminate any areas that might attract homeless persons to that area. It will also provide better visual surveillance for Orange PD…Once thats completed they will move north and begin the same brush removal in Santiago creek just south of Grijalva Park. I have been working on this with our friends and neighbors who live along Santiago creek from Grijalva park to Chapman Ave…. Its great to see this happening as it will remove areas that have drawn in a bad element to that part of the creek….I have staff also working on installing a new automatic gate at the Palm / Handy street entrance to the bike trail….its our hope that this new gate will deter people from using the creek at night for illegal activity ….
Today I received a personal invitation to participate in the kick off of Anaheim’s “Operation Safe Home Campaign”. I understand a detailed report will be discussed among the participants and it will include Anaheim’s plan of action to deal with the homeless at the Santa Ana river trail.( SART ) I look forward to seeing what information I can bring back to Orange….
Have a safe weekend folks……
UPDATED – October 1, 2017: excerpted from information released by City of Orange Public Information Officer Paul Sitkoff:
[The Orange City Council] directed several actions to increase the resources available to Law Enforcement and City Staff to address the issue.
• The Council authorized the addition of two new Police Officer positions dedicated specifically to address calls for service to the homelessness issues. These two positions will be in addition to the two existing HEART (Homeless Engagement Assistance and Resource Team) officers.
• Increased the presence of the private security patrols at selected city parks and the Main Library. Existing private security coverage will increase by 40% to enhance the preservation of our parks and library.
• Directed the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance for consideration by the City Council prohibiting Aggressive Solicitation in the City of Orange.
• Created three new City Council ad hoc committees to address specific aspects of the homelessness issues:
- A committee to work with surrounding cities on finding shared solutions and to address the homelessness issue holistically.
- A Committee to advocate for the City on the homelessness issue on both the County and State levels, including the financial impact on our community and the City’s resources.
- A committee to interface with our community, exchange information and ideas, and allow for our residents to provide direct feedback to the City government. These actions join several programs already in place for compassionately providing assistance to the homeless population, and protecting the property and well-being of our citizens.
Orange has also added a page to the city website where “residents and businesses will find current information on the homelessness situation as it relates to our City, contact information for the local government agencies, non-profits, and assistance organizations in the area with resources or information, and updates specific to Orange.”