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Officials Desperately Seek Solution To OC Emergency Homeless Crisis

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Yet another court hearing involving several city and county officials was underway Tuesday morning in the ongoing debate regarding how to house hundreds of homeless people who were cleared from the Santa Ana riverbed earlier this year.

The hearing, which got underway at 9 a.m. in federal court in Santa Ana, comes after Orange County supervisors decided last week to abandon a controversial plan to erect large tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house the homeless.

O.C. Supervisors were forced to abandon the three-city plan after fervent demonstrations from residents and city officials, along with threats of lawsuits. A second proposal -- to house the homeless in the state-owned and soon-to-be-shuttered Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa -- was also met with strong opposition from residents.

On Friday, Santa Ana officials responded with threats of lawsuits of their own, saying other cities need to shoulder more of the burden of providing emergency shelter space.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter is presiding over Tuesday's hearing. So far, Carter has acted as a referee as he implores both sides to come to a settlement.

On Monday, meanwhile, transients in the Plaza of the Flags area next to the O.C. Superior Court in Santa Ana were put on notice they will soon have to move. Social workers were out at the Plaza of the Flags to provide services to the transients. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do called a special board meeting for Monday afternoon to discuss the issue, but only he and Supervisor Shawn Nelson attended.

Do called Tuesday's hearing "extremely critical because of the lack of progress, to me, at both the county (and) city levels will be a key factor in what Judge Carter may do in the future."

The cities cannot enforce anti-camping or anti-loitering laws "without giving the homeless a viable alternative," Do said.

In February, hundreds of homeless people were cleared from a two-mile stretch of the Santa Ana riverbed – from Santa Ana to Anaheim — after months of wrangling between homeless advocates and county and city officials.

During the ordeal, the Orange County Catholic Worker group and several homeless people filed a federal lawsuit against the county, in addition the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa, claiming that removing the homeless from the riverbed violated a broad range of constitutional protections. OCCW argued that evicting the transients would disperse them to the surrounding cities, where they will be cited for trespassing, loitering and anti-camping laws.

The lawsuit resulted in a deal between the advocates and municipal officials in which the homeless would be removed from the riverbed and then be given 30-day motel vouchers while the county looks for more permanent solutions.

Those vouchers have run out, however. The issue in federal court has shifted to the long-term housing of those transients as well as moving the homeless living in tents next to the Santa Ana courthouse.

(©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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