Politicians and the ACLU are patting themselves and each other on the back for the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the civil rights organization against the county over a push to rid the homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River. The settlement gives homeless until February 23rd to remove their possessions and move out. New notice papers have been posted up that read “All unlawful, disposals, abandoned/unattended items are subject to immediate removal. Violators of these laws are subject to arrest and/or prosecution.” The County of Orange also agreed to open fences that were put up to allow the homeless to get in and out of their encampments as well as offering a free bus pass or other form of transportation to a storage facility in Lake Forest. And OC agreed to pay the ACLU’s attorney fees for the lawsuit.
Hooray for everyone, right? Except for the actual homeless.
Many riverbed residents already moved along by the time the ACLU announced the settlement—some across the riverbed to an area by the bike trail, others to local parks. However, some of the homeless are standing their ground and staying on the banks, while others who are mentally ill still have no idea of what’s going on and all the commotion is provoking much fear and stress. Meanwhile, many Skid River residents and homeless activist are disappointed with the settlement, stating that they believed the ACLU was fighting to get the flood control project completely stopped. “It gives them some time to move but it sucks that they still have to move out at all, they are scared and don’t want to move out. They need adequate housing and healthcare not an extra couple of days” says Danny Somerville an outreach coordinator homeless interventionist. One resident who requested anonymity said that a couple of extra days does nothing for them. And that’s true: It doesn’t change the fact that February 23rd will come, and they will still have no place to go because the armories and Courtyard will continue to be full.
While the ACLU lawsuit has been settled, another group of attorneys have filed a separate federal lawsuit against the county over the riverbed evictions. The lawsuit alleges that public workers destroyed some of the homeless’s belongings in the process of displacing them. Though the lawsuits bring attention and may cause delay to the Orange County Public Works project, the question remains: where do the Santa Ana riverbed homeless go come February 24th?