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Bellflower Reaches Deal To Tackle Homeless Crisis

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – A federal judge signed off Monday on agreements for how the cities of Laguna Beach, Santa Ana and Bellflower take on homeless encampments in their areas.

It all stems from a federal lawsuit filed back in January of 2018 by the Orange County Catholic Worker group and several homeless people to try and stop the county and local cities from clearing homeless encampments out of a two-mile stretch of the Santa Ana riverbed, which runs from Santa Ana to Anaheim.

Under the deal, Bellflower will likely be required to create a shelter with 40 to 50 beds for the homeless, according to Carol Sobel, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has been overseeing the lawsuit since the beginning. The agreement with Bellflower was a first in the homeless litigation before Carter because it involved a city in L.A. County.

City officials agree to have social workers evaluate a homeless person first before enforcing any anti-camping or loitering laws. The goal is to place a transient into some sort of emergency shelter as a first step toward more long-term housing. Transients who refuse services can be subjected to jailing as long as the participating city has demonstrated it has provided enough shelter beds for its homeless population.

"This is a momentous occasion," Carter said.

Sobel agreed.

"This is really unprecedented," she said after the hearing. "Nothing like this has happened in Los Angeles."

RELATED: Settlement Allows OC To Immediately Arrest Homeless In Certain Areas

Carter pushed the attorneys and Orange County officials to spread the word to other L.A. County cities "to knock down some of these old artificial barriers" and get more of them on board with the settlements.

Carter praised Laguna Beach officials, whose efforts to address homeless issues date back a decade. The judge accused neighboring cities of "dumping" their homeless populations at Laguna Beach's shelter. Carter said Laguna Beach officials, "starting tomorrow," can begin efforts to place transients into shelters, and, if they refuse, they'll face jail.

Carter approved an agreement in June that provides for new shelters in Buena Park and Placentia that will house homeless people in the northern part of O.C.

The homeless issue has grown into a major crisis for O.C. over the past few years as rents continue to skyrocket and the supply of available housing is unable to meet the demand.

Back in May, the San Clemente City Council voted to set up an emergency homeless shelter due to a growing homeless population in their city.

In July, homeless advocates filed a federal lawsuit against the city of L.A. over what they claim is the unlawful seizure and destruction of property belonging to homeless people during sweeps.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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