Santa Ana and El Centro clash before Judge Carter over homelessness – Orange County Register
A homeless camp outside a cultural center in Santa Ana could be cleaned up by next week following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter in an emergency weekend hearing.
City officials can evict anyone still living outside of El Centro Cultural de Mexico, and can do so any time before Tuesday, May 18, city spokesman Paul Eakins said on Monday.
But a lawyer representing the homeless said they could not be returned unless they were first offered some sort of placement.
“It’s in the city’s best interests that we find a place for them to go,” said lawyer Brooke Weitzman. “If we just tell people to leave, they will move to the neighborhoods and there will be more calls from the police.”
The camp, which at times had grown to around 70 people, has shrunk in recent weeks to around 15 people. Those who run the non-profit El Centro have tried to help homeless people camping outside their property, saying they don’t want to criminalize homelessness. Neighbors, however, said the encampment has brought trash, noise and other nuisance into their community and they want it to go away.
Earlier this year, city officials pressured El Centro to evict the homeless from their property and fined him $ 1,800. At one point, the two sides said they would work together to help people get around, but a deadline came and went and some people stayed at the site.
On May 4, city officials obtained a reduction warrant to clear the parking lots in El Centro and on Friday May 7, they posted a 24-hour warrant notice on the property, saying they could act quickly. to move the homeless.. Homeless advocates immediately called for an emergency hearing, questioning whether the city was breaking a previous agreement related to homelessness and asking the court to ensure that anyone called to leave would be offered shelter or a another alternative.
In his Saturday decision, Carter dismissed lawyers’ request to find the city in violation of the previous regulation, writing that he “does not find it appropriate to intervene in a nuisance reduction action involving private property.”
“The state court order does not relate to the Federal Court’s consent decree,” Carter wrote, referring to a 2019 settlement agreement in which the city agreed to oversee 450 beds for the homeless. shelter.
But Santa Ana also has an anti-camping ordinance for public properties – which says the city must offer homeless people proper placement before it can fine or arrest people for sleeping outside. Carter wrote that the city cannot enforce its anti-camping ordinance until the city complies with the terms of the previous regulation “and has 450 beds available.”
For attorney Weitzman, who represents the homeless in El Centro and has been involved in previous litigation, Carter’s order is “unclear.”
“The judge said he would not interfere with state order, but they also couldn’t move anyone until certain conditions were met. That leaves a lot of interpretation as to what may or may not happen with the reduction, ”said Weitzman, co-founder of the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center.
According to Weitzman’s interpretation, officials cannot move forward with the reduction unless the city offers everyone some sort of shelter. But last month, Santa Ana closed her temporary homeless facility The Link and it has been difficult to find a place for everyone who needs it, she said.
If people are evicted from the property and not given shelter, they could move to public places where the city would not be allowed to exploit its anti-camping ordinance until Santa Ana offers 450 city-managed beds. , Weitzman said.
Eakins, the city spokesperson, said the city has already made several offers to find accommodation for people still camping outside El Centro, but some still do not want to leave.
“This is a nuisance reduction mandate for private property that has an impact on the surrounding neighborhood. We don’t use the anti-camping ordinance, which concerns public property, ”Eakins said.
“At this point, we can clean up this property,” Eakins said. No second opinion is needed, he added, as one was already published last Thursday. The city has two weeks to reduce private property from the date the warrant was issued on May 4, according to Eakins.
Ben Vazquez, a teacher from Santa Ana and a volunteer at El Centro, said the city needs a homeless shelter that people can enter without reference or prior permission. “The city wants to push disputes and not find solutions,” he said.
Eakins argued that El Centro made a legal agreement to erase the site within 45 days and missed the deadline. “It’s not as if the city says, out of the blue, ‘We are evicting everyone’.”
Both Vazquez and Weitzman noted that the city closed The Link center during those 45 days.
Many homeless people stationed in El Centro, Weitzman said, have been told “there are no beds.”
SCNG editor Nathaniel Percy contributed to this report.