Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You: the Riverbed Homeless!




In the wake of a recent settlement between the ACLU and the county, many questions remain unanswered.  One in particular stands out:  Just where do Orange County officials expect several hundred persons experiencing homelessness in the Santa Ana Riverbed to go next?

According to a press release on Saturday Feb. 18, 2017, “On February 23, 2017, the County will continue with the project and may enforce all existing trespassing laws.” Thus signalling that the county intends to continue the reckless policy of displacing homeless encampments there by use of force.

That’s all fine and dandy unless you are one of the many concerned citizens, myself included, that are left to wonder, “just where are these soon-to-be displaced homeless people supposed to go?”

One educated guess leads to two possible paths for the homeless to escape the wrath of the county. The two obvious choices for people living in the riverbed encampments is to head east or west into the “more quaint” neighborhoods of Anaheim and Orange.

If you are a resident of either Orange or Anaheim, it should be obvious to see the implications of the conduct of our county and the resulting negative impact that we must begin bracing ourselves for in the coming days and weeks.

I would like to ask Mayor Tait, “Do you still think that homelessness is mainly a county issue?”

The county purchased property at Kraemer Place more than two years ago specifically for the first-ever county homeless shelter. Other cities chipped in money for that shelter as well including Anaheim, which added $500,000 initially to the county coffers.

Many excuses have been made for why the facility has yet to be opened, giving just another example of the county’s refusal to address this issue, which is now a crisis thrown into the hands of cities like Orange and Anaheim.

One must ask, “Could the county have waited until the Kraemer Shelter be made operational thereby accommodating at least a large share of homeless people otherwise being displaced from the riverbed with nowhere else to go?”

I ask this to all of our leaders in our cities and the residents in these cities: “Does it appear that our county is in front of this homelessness crisis? And, if the BOS had any concern regarding fleeing homeless encampments along the riverbed, why would they not have a solution for where these people are to exist if not on the very outskirts of your neighborhoods?”

It doesn’t make sense, but it is consistent with the message that I have been conveying to our communities for some time:  Stop relying on our county for solutions to homelessness and start looking for solutions within our communities. The county simply will not provide solutions because we have failed to make them accountable.

Yes, I know that you are going to say that the county gets all of the federal funding to deal with the homeless issues. For the most part that is true.

Our county has received more than $200M since 1996 and about $23.5M just last year alone. Do you think that if that money were spent in the right places, we would be seeing such significant increases in visible homelessness in our county?

During that same period of time, our cities have created laws that make being homeless a crime. Each year when your cities review the budget, police chiefs across the county will report to city councils that they must have more money for enforcing the laws or new gadgets like cameras in the parks, in order to combat homelessness.

Have any of you witnessed any positive affect of law enforcement to reducing visible homelessness by means other than displacing them from one place to another?

A great example of this comes straight from the mouth of Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada in his staff report regarding homelessness to Anaheim city council just a few weeks ago. The chief noted increases in police enforcement of a camping ordinance that was put into law and had been paying off since 2013 based on decreasing numbers of visibly homeless persons and police-related complaints against homeless violators in Anaheim parks since its inception.

Any one of you who have driven the southbound 57 freeway near Anaheim stadium can give testimony in the exponential increase of visibly homeless persons living along the Santa Ana River since 2013, at which time I believe there were no visible homeless encampments there, at least nothing near what we see today.

So, while Chief Quezada exults in his success, is there not enough evidence to show that excessive (and very expensive) law enforcement may correlate to the decline of visible homelessness on the streets of Anaheim and the increase during the same time at the riverbed?

So, once again homeless people are being displaced and they may be heading back from whence they came.

Congratulations to Orange and Anaheim!  The steps that you took and the policies you created to rid your cities of visible homelessness in recent years resulted in the dispensation of homeless people to the riverbed. Out of your jurisdictions and into the hands of the county, whom you have trusted faitfully to deal with the problem for so long.

The question remaining is, how will cities like Anaheim and Orange handle the next obvious influx of homeless persons’ from the riverbed as they migrate back into areas where they have already previously been displaced?

The homeless are coming back to your communities, but this time amidst great contention.

The treatment of homeless persons here in Orange County is at an all-time low while their numbers have reached an all-time high. Legal experts from across the nation are flocking to Orange County armed with every order of law in defense of the homeless population here and your county knows this to be true.

Legal advocates are taking-up sides with the homeless more and more these days as evidenced in national news headlines. Litigation has proven successful in many landmark cases, but many cases result in some type of settlement and are often by disclosure being well-hidden from public speculation and far from the courts of public opinion. But, these settlements are many and very costly to municipalities.

Supportive and affordable housing are proven solutions to end homelessness. Putting a homeless person in their own apartment and providing them with financial empowerment instruction and life skills training costs less than incarceration or excessive visits to the emergency room.

What can you do as a citizen/taxpayer and resident of Anaheim or Orange?

You must begin by holding all levels of local government accountable for creating policies that are effective and proven to be successful. These “best-practices” for ending homelessness are working in other areas of the country and they are proven to save taxpayer money.

Ask your county and your city, what if any existing homeless policies include the implementation of affordable housing opportunities in comparison to the need for housing by homeless and those at-risk of becoming homeless.

Our communities should never rely on any branch of government entirely regarding any issue that so heavily impacts the quaility-of-life within the community itself.

Homelessness is a serious issue that requires a collaborative effort beginning with our own communities, all levels of government and all relevant stakeholders including business, education, etc. Hold your elected officials responsible and accountable. If significant results are not met under current policies, our policies should be reviewed and the merits of such policies should be performance-based.

To put it briefly, if any policy that costs taxpayers so much doesn’t produce visible results, find a policy that does work, it may even be less expensive.

In closing I implore all taxpaying citizens who are concerned that county policies at the riverbed may lead to an invasion of visibly homeless persons’ into their neighborhoods, to take immediate action.

The BOS will convene in a special session this coming Tuesday Feb. 21, 2017 at 9:30 am at the Hall of Administration and will meet again on Feb. 28, 2017 at 9:30 am as well. I recommend that you and your neighbors be there and be prepared to speak against the current homeless policies that are a failure and place your community at-risk of being left alone to deal with a homeless crisis that the county itself has created and chooses to ignore.

About Tim Houchen