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Homeless Cleared From Santa Ana Riverbed

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Hundreds of homeless people have been cleared from the Santa Ana riverbed following a months-long controversy over how to handle the issue.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported Monday that all the transients had been moved out of the encampments that lined the two-mile stretch of the river. No arrests occurred during the process.

Deputies will now be enforcing trespassing laws along the Santa Ana River Trail. Access is only allowed between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The homeless encampments had presented a variety of problems ranging from environmental hazards to rising crime in the area, and an inability of bikers and hikers to use the public trails.

This latest development follows an unusual federal court hearing last week in which homeless advocates filed a lawsuit against Orange County and local cities demanding a preliminary injunction blocking O.C. officials from enforcing anti-camping and trespass laws.

However, the hearing in U.S. District Judge David O. Carter's courtroom instead turned into an hours-long negotiation session that resulted in advocates and local officials reaching a tentative deal on finding temporary shelter for the riverbed homeless. At one point last Wednesday, Carter, a Marine Corps veteran, even left the court and went and toured the encampments himself.

The deal calls for, among other possible solutions, providing the homeless with month-long motel vouchers, adding beds to the homeless center in Anaheim, and erecting a tent in a fleet yard in Orange that can house up to 100 beds.

The initial lawsuit, filed by the Orange County Catholic Worker group and seven homeless people, claimed a broad range of violations of constitutional protections by the governments of O.C. and the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa. Orange County Catholic Worker argued that evicting the transients will disperse them to the surrounding cities, where they will be cited for trespassing, loitering and anti-camping laws.

However, Carter turned the hearing into a workshop among attorneys and municipal leaders, peppering them with questions about how a solution could be reached for the riverbed encampment before he had to issue a court order.

The tentative deal calls for the county to provide the homeless up to 30 days at a motel to be used as a sort of triage area until more stable housing is found for them.

Beyond the motel rooms, the county can quickly add 32 beds to its homeless center in Anaheim, which still hasn't fully opened. There's also a fleet yard in Orange that can be used to erect a tent to set up 100 beds; and there's also room near the Orange County Registrar of Voters' office on Grand Avenue in Santa Ana for more beds.

Carter said he wants notices going out Wednesday to the homeless that the riverbed will be cleared out by next Tuesday and said he would monitor the notification effort to reassure the transients that the transition would be done "humanely" and they will be given alternative shelter.

The county has set aside $10 million or more for emergency services for the homeless, according to O.C. Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do.

The O.C. homeless crisis came to the forefront last September, when the Anaheim City Council declared a state of emergency for the more than 400 people who have been living in a tent city in the shadow of Angel Stadium.

That same month, the Santa Ana City Council also declared the homeless issue around the Santa Ana Civic Center a public health and safety crisis, while the O.C. Board of Supervisors approved a plan to increase law enforcement along the riverbed from Santa Ana to Anaheim.

In November, Orange County permanently closed the west side of the flood control channel between Santa Ana and Fountain Valley. During the process, authorities reportedly found about 1,000 bikes hidden in a tunnel system under a concrete flood control channel. Deputies also began strictly enforcing public access hours along the Santa Ana River Trail. Access is only allowed between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Deputies have been slowly clearing the encampments since January, when they began going tent to tent along the Santa Ana River telling people the area will be closed and they need to move.

(©2018 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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