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Orange and North Orange County Cities Join Forces to Find Solutions to Homelessness
The effects of chronic homelessness have been felt by every city in Orange County. In order to help address the issue, and find ways to address the underlying problems that lead to homelessness, Orange has joined with the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia, Villa Park, Stanton, and Yorba Linda in an unprecedented partnership called the North Service Planning Area (SPA). The North SPA Partnership is a joint collaboration that includes two full-service Navigation Centers to provide help to the region’s homeless. The Buena Park Center and the Placentia Center will provide homeless individuals a total of 250 beds, health resources, job skill training, and the ability to reconnect with lost family. These facilities join the two shelters already built by the City of Anaheim, which house another 326 beds.
In early 2018, in response to public outcry, the County of Orange evicted the homeless living along the Santa Ana River Trail. When the original plans for the evictions became public, the County and several cities were sued, alleging that local anti-camping ordinances were a violation of the constitutional rights of the homeless. At nearly the same time, the United States Court of Appeals, in an unrelated suit, ruled that anti-camping ordinances may not be enforced on Public property when there are no local shelter beds available.
The North SPA partnership was formed as part of an agreement to settle this suit and avoid further costly litigation.
While each of the North SPA Cities contribute funding toward, a majority of the funds come from non-general fund sources. In late 2018, the State of California awarded the North SPA $12 million dollars in Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding, and the County of Orange has committed both $6.5 million dollars for the construction of shelters, and $1.5 million dollars annually for operations.
In addition to our participation in the North SPA, Orange has undertaken several other initiatives over the past few years to address our local homelessness issue. We partnered with HomeAid of Orange County to develop the Orange Family Care Center, which specializes in serving the needs of families who have found themselves homeless.
The Orange Police Department’s Homeless Engagement, Assistance & Resource Team (HEART) program has been operating since 2013. HEART Officers engage daily with our local homeless individuals, working with them one-on-one to help facilitate their re-entry back into mainstream society.
Increasing the availability of affordable housing is also an important key to solving the homelessness crisis. Here in Orange, we also have a long history of encouraging the development of affordable housing projects. In Orange, we have one of the highest number of such units anywhere in the County.
The problem of homelessness in our City and County is one that has been growing for a long time. This is not a problem that will go away in a day, or be solved in a few months. One of the first steps will be learn how we can best mitigate the impacts our local homeless population has on our City’s residents and businesses. Transitioning our homeless population out of that lifestyle will be an easier adjustment when there is a mutual agreement to co-exist.
The goal of a homeless future is one we can all agree on. Together with our County and City partners, we are working to find both short-term and long-term solutions for a future where those without homes may find help and hope.
Orange County has seen an unprecedented marked increase in the number of homeless persons using public spaces and right-of-way for camping or long-term habitation over the past several years. Orange and other cities along the Santa Ana Riverbed have felt the impact of this increase in several ways. Areas within our City, such as our parks and creek beds, are attractive locations for homeless persons to gather. Those who have made camp on County controlled property, like the banks of Santa Ana River, come into Orange looking for supplies, food, or handouts
It is important to note that as we discuss the City’s response to homelessness in Orange that we separate the discussion of our response within the City boundaries and our response within the Santa Ana River area (“River”). This is an important distinction as the City has significantly more control and ability to address issues with homelessness in our City parks, trails, public spaces, neighborhoods, and business districts. As such, the City has had good success in preventing camping and criminal activity in our parks and public spaces. Specific to general enforcement, there are two Orange Municipal Code (OMC) sections that address camping restrictions: 12.48.045 which prohibits camping in City parks and 12.66.030 which prohibits camping and obstructing public rights-of-way including sidewalks and other public spaces. In addition, OMC section 12.48.090 prohibits individuals from being in City parks after posted operating hours.
Conversely, as the Santa Ana River area is in the jurisdiction of the County of Orange and related agencies, our efforts has been hindered. While portions of the River are within the boundaries of the City of Orange, the River is owned and operated by the county. As such, the County is the primary jurisdictional authority for the River. While the County does have compatible park hours and right-of-way obstruction statutes, they have not been enforced by the Orange County Sheriff Department.
Recently, at the direction of the County of Orange Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff's Department has begun active patrols along the River. To support the Sheriff’s Department, Orange Police Department will be dedicating one police officer per week. This will be in addition to the HEART Team engagement. Specifically, Orange Police Department personnel will be working alongside Anaheim and Sheriff personnel as part of a multi-jurisdictional task force. In doing so, Orange Police Department will be continuing their strategy of compassionate but firm enforcement.