Response to Undersheriff Barnes and Board of Supervisors on Homelessness

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About 30 Chapman students, faculty and community members attended a rally in the Attallah Piazza Oct. 24 to support the rights of Orange County’s homeless population. Photo by Jackie Cohen /The Panther magazine.

Statement by  the Executive Director of Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition,  Mohammed Aly , ESq:

Undersheriff Barnes has obliged the County in supporting the narrative of a criminal element ” that declines help and threatens public safety, claiming that 90% of homeless individuals have turned down services offered by law enforcement at the Santa Ana Riverbed.

But according to the County’s September 2017 Care Coordination Newsletter , in a section reviewing County contractor City Net’s “Flood Control Channel Engagement Initiative Census Data,” the County of Orange stated that “81.2 percent are interested in case management services which means they are receptive to services and working towards the pathway to housing.”

The County of Orange’s data starkly contrasts with the claim made by Orange County Sheriff’s Department. There are many reasons to believe that the number of individuals refusing services is 18% rather than 90%.

First, City Net’s staff have been trained to conduct outreach to homeless individuals, but County Sheriff’s have not.

Second, many homeless individuals are already sitting on waiting lists for housing and simply do not need further outreach. City Net has been contracted by the County to conduct outreach in the Riverbed since July 1, and has already signed up many homeless individuals for services.

Third, Undersheriff Barnes claims that law enforcement officers are offering resources, but the reality is that these resources do not exist. The County’s Point In Time in 2017 estimated an unsheltered population of 1,678 among a total homeless population of 4,792. Homeless individuals are all too aware of the shortfall in shelter beds.

Fourth, it is understandable that homeless individuals are wary of law enforcement purporting to offer help. Law enforcement have cleared homeless encampments from the Riverbed by the 57 freeway in February; by Warner Ave in June ; and along the fence of the Honda Center in July.

As a matter of fact, I was present when the County dispatched a new Riverbed patrol consisting of ” 24 law enforcement officers on September 15. I followed law enforcement as they went tent to tent surveying the population, and before law enforcement made contact with homeless individuals, I advised individuals of their right to decline to speak with law enforcement officers–as long as they were not being detained, they were free to walk away.

Undersheriff Barnes also claimed that arrests that have taken place “for a variety of crimes including robbery, domestic violence, sex offenders violating the terms of their probation, and multiple parolees at-large.

But those crimes do not represent the Riverbed homeless community in general. Nor do those crimes represent even the members of the Riverbed homeless community that have been arrested. Law enforcement has not focused enforcement on victim-based crimes.

In August, Supervisor Do discussed his Homeless Engagement Initiative :

“As a County Supervisor, I’m going to own up that we have, we bear some responsibility–us, and… and some law enforcement. That we have allowed homelessness to be conducted almost synonymously out there with lawlessness. Right? We don’t have a law enforcement presence, we allow people to do what they do out there unimpeded.

And so part of my proposal with the work that started July 1st is I made law enforcement a big component of the work that we do out on the riverbed. So that we’re going to make it uncomfortable for people who violate the law. And I don’t mean just criminal law right I’m talking about nuisance law as well. We’re going to start to crack down there to make it uncomfortable for those people so they know, ‘hey look we’re going to take back control of our land.’”

County officials and city leaders will likely continue their attempt to enforce their way out of the affordable housing crisis.

On October 18, Supervisor Nelson gave a time-frame for the County clearing the Riverbed, stating :

“ What I think will happen–you could ask me how I feel about that, but don’t think that what the county’s about to do is my prescription for how to do it, and don’t read into it how I feel, alright? If I ask you go out of the parking lot to name the color the first car you see, it would be a mistake to interpret that you like that color, fair enough? So here’s what I think what is likely to happen, given the will of the board where I currently serve. I think you’re going to start seeing, probably further south, an effort to start getting people out of the river, removing locations that are sort of an invitation to camp.

Probably you see more areas getting fenced off, smaller groups being relocated at a time, and the reality is, there is a certain percentage of population that is not going to go no, matter what service is offered, for their own reasons. I mean, we could all guess what they are, we’ll probably be close to right, and on some we wouldn’t–you know, everybody’s an individual. But generally speaking, there there’s some common characteristics.

We probably will learn some hard lessons there, will probably struggle through some lawsuits, and hopefully figure out what is or isn’t going to be allowed, and that process will work its way up north, and you know, you will get, my guess is, to the riverbed area, probably after the first of the year, the riverbed being kind of the Anaheim/Orange area, and you just take it by segments. And unfortunately, you know the status that we’re in right now, if you push people out, you know, you will end up dealing with in the city.”

The County of Orange is poised to ignore the US Constitution and legal precedent by illegally sweeping all homeless encampments from the Santa Ana Riverbed. The County will either fail–and have to pay plaintiff’s attorney’s fees after losing an injunction; or succeed–and push hundreds of homeless people into the neighborhoods of already frustrated Anaheim and Orange residents.




About Ricardo Toro

Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, another area of interest is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly.