New Plan To Clear out Homeless Encampments

County+officials+have+planned+to+clear+out+the+encampments+by+late+January.
County officials have planned to clear out the encampments by late January.

County officials have planned to clear out the encampments by late January.

Photo Credit: Sarah Wolstoncroft

Photo Credit: Sarah Wolstoncroft

County officials have planned to clear out the encampments by late January.

Olivia Hennessey, News Editor

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This is part of The Royal Reporter’s ongoing series about Orange County homelessness.

On January 5th, the Orange County Sherriff’s Department reaffirmed their plans to clear out the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana Riverbed starting on January 22nd. According to The Associated Press, OC Sherriff’s Department spokeswoman, Carrie Braun, says “The goal is to get people out of there and restore it to a flood control channel.”

Since then, multiple county officials have spoken out in favor of the plan.

“Piles of trash become harborages and food sources for vectors and related pathogens, sources of odors, fuel for fires, unattractive nuisances to the public and potential sites that can cause bodily injuries,” writes Richard Sanchez, Orange County Health Care Agency Director, according to The Orange County Register.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes said in a statement to The OC Register as well, “The best way to help both the homeless and neighboring residents is to enforce public access hours and restrict the ability for individuals to encamp along the Santa Ana River Trail. The homeless encampments pose a threat to the public’s safety. There is a criminal element … that hinders the ability for individuals willing to transition to self-sufficiency.”

Others, though, including homeless rights advocates and homeless residents themselves, have been critical of the decision.

According to The Voice of OC Brooke Weitzman, an Elder Law and Disability Rights Center attorney said, “The 1,000 or so people who are currently residing in the riverbed will spill into the neighboring residential neighborhoods where they’ll have no choice but to sleep on the sidewalks.”

“They’re doing a lot of good things with this outreach and stuff but still there’s no affordable housing, there’s no jobs,” said riverbed resident Frank Block to ABC 7: Eyewitness News.

Many residents of the riverbed see the encampment as their home. Michael “MJ” Diehl says to The OC Register, “A lot of these people who live along the riverbed are my friends.  I look at some of them a lot closer than that, more like family.”

The results of the decision will have a great impact on the riverbed’s residents and the surrounding area. Orange County has yet to see if it will be successful.

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