In the wake of removing a 200-person homeless encampment on the Santa Ana River Trail in Fountain Valley, County of Orange officials discovered a well-constructed underground bunker and 1,000 bikes stashed in a flood control tunnel. Also found was a half-loaded .357 magnum revolver that had been fired.
The approximately 10×10 underground bunker is big enough for a 5′ 7″ person to stand erect. Steps led down into the bunker from a concealed hatch. The bunker was empty when it was discovered. Since the camp had already been cleared by then, officials are unclear how it was being used – but it’s hard to imagine its purpose was legitimate.
According to OC Public Works spokesman Shannon Widor:
“OC Public Works crew members were performing clean-up maintenance on the flood control property (removing debris and trash). A crew member saw a pile of dirt and observed a small section of carpet on the ground. When the carpet was removed, the crew member discovered a small wood cover and, upon lifting the wood, discovered it led to wood steps to the underground compartment. Whomever built the compartment used wood for the steps and for support beams in the underground compartment. It’s approximately a 5-10 ft square area and about 6 ft high. It was discovered on flood control property on the back-side of the levee (opposite side from the cement channel).”
The discovery of the bunker and enormous cache of stolen bikes raises the question of what might be found in the much larger homeless encampment by Angel Stadium, which stretches for approximately two miles from Ball Road south to the I-5 freeway. Inhabitants of that encampment currently enjoy the sanctuary from enforcement actions thanks to the settlement agreement imposed by federal District Court Judge David O. Carter.
The OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) began enforcement operations at the SART transient camps since mid-September, gradually stepping up the tempo during the last two months. Enforcement is combined with continuous offers of assistance to the homeless (both by peace officers and social workers). The numbers are bearing out what critics of allowing the encampments to remain have been saying: most of the occupants are refusing help. The OCSD says that during the last two months, it has made 1,561 contacts (some individuals were contacted multiple times). Only 114 individuals have accepted services – a 73% refusal rate.
During the same period, the 273 arrests have been made for a variety of crimes, including weapons possession, robbery, assault and sexual assault; 27 were for felonies, 180 for misdemeanors and 66 for outstanding warrants. At the end of October, the number of arrests was 180.
Residents of the Fountain Valley homeless camp had approximately three weeks to relocate. During that time, OC Parks hired a bus that would arrive at encampment every day at 5:00 p.m. to provide transportation to the Santa Ana Armory emergency shelter. According to county sources, it always wound up leaving without any passengers.
The discoveries at the Fountain Valley encampment further erode claims by homeless advocates that criminals are only a small portion of the population of the SART homeless encampments. Several weeks ago, homeless advocate Mohammed Aly told this writer that none of the bikes in the SART encampments are stolen – a incredible claim that only appears more absurd in the light of the discovery of 1,000 bicycle secreted in a flood control tunnel. Such refusal to acknowledge the reality of the SART homeless encampments is not unusual among the advocates, whose ability to frame the public debate on this issue continues crashing into reality.