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Tentative Deal Reached In Santa Ana River Homeless Suit

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – After an unusual federal court hearing turned into an hours-long negotiation session Tuesday, advocates and local officials reached a tentative deal on finding temporary shelter for the hundreds of homeless people who live along the Santa Ana riverbed.

The homeless will begin being moved out of the two-mile stretch, which lies along a bike trail paralleling the river, next Tuesday, Feb. 21. 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.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter toured the camp Wednesday morning.

On Feb. 7, Carter granted a temporary restraining order against evicting the homeless from the riverbed in response to a lawsuit filed last month by the Orange County Catholic Worker group and seven homeless people.

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

However, on Tuesday, Carter made it clear to the plaintiffs and defendants that he was impatient for a solution to the homeless problem along the riverbed, which has 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.

Carter turned Tuesday's hearing – which was to be over whether to give plaintiffs a preliminary injunction that would block O.C. officials from enforcing anti-camping and trespass laws- - 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.

Tuesday afternoon was spent with both sides negotiating in private until they developed the framework of a deal by the end of the day.

The 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, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said. He said in court that as many 400 motel rooms would be made available. The average rate of the motel rooms is $75 to $125 nightly, Orange County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim told reporters at a break in the hearing.

Beyond the motel rooms, the county can quickly add 32 beds to its homeless center in Anaheim, which still hasn't fully opened. There is also room at the center to erect tents in the parking lot for an additional 60 beds, Do said, adding that a woman's shelter in Santa Ana can provide about 100 beds for women fleeing domestic violence for 60 to 90 days.

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.

In all, the county believes it can provide 700 to 800 more beds, Do said.

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.

During the negotiations, Carter, a Marine Corps veteran, huddled with Veterans Administration officials to discuss how to get mental health professionals from the federal government down to the riverbed to help the transients as they move. Carter said he would sign the federal order allowing the VA officials to work on non-federal land, "and I'll take the heat for it."

The county has set aside $10 million or more for emergency services for the homeless, Do said.

The homeless crisis in Orange County 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.

In January, deputies started 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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