Santa Ana Claims OC Homeless Settlement Breached by County

Santa Ana Claims OC Homeless Settlement Breached by County
An officer from the Sheriff's Department speaks with a homeless woman pulling her cart of belongings beside the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 20, 2018. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
City News Service

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do on Sept. 1 berated as a "political stunt" the city of Santa Ana's filing of an amended complaint in federal court alleging the county breached its settlement agreement regarding sheltering of the county's homeless.

The city filed the amended complaint Aug. 31, alleging that since the settlement agreement in July 2019, transients continue to migrate or be ferried into Santa Ana instead of being placed in the area of the county they frequent.

Under the settlement agreement, various areas of the county agreed to accept homeless shelters because the law prevented cities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances unless they had provided enough shelter space for transients as an alternative.

City officials allege in court papers that sheriff's deputies continue their "practice of transporting homeless individuals in breach of the [agreement], bringing homeless individuals into Santa Ana from across the county during the remainder of 2019, and, on information and belief, continuing throughout 2020."

Also, deputies have "engaged in a sustained pattern of de facto transport by arresting homeless individuals who are then transported to the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana, where they are ultimately released without transportation back to their city of arrest, or even the ability to make a phone call," the lawsuit alleges.

"Predictably, many or most such individuals remain in Santa Ana upon release, seeking shelter and services from Santa Ana," the filing states.

"This is hardly surprising, given that the county has failed to take the necessary steps to provide sufficient shelter and services elsewhere. Thus, while the county purports to be in compliance with the ... settlement agreement, by these practices, it is not."

City officials also alleged that the COVID-19 pandemic "has exacerbated the influx of the county's homeless population into the streets of Santa Ana and shone an even brighter light on the inequities arising from the county's practices."

The lawsuit alleges that the county has "imposed onerous COVID-19 testing requirements" at the shelter in downtown Santa Ana called the Courtyard, which is across from the county Hall of Administration. The testing requirements make it "nearly impossible for a person experiencing homelessness (or anyone) to meet," the city alleges.

The Courtyard has "severely reduced capacity" at the shelter, turning away transients, according to the city.

"Hundreds of those individuals remain unsheltered in the vicinity of the facility, without any way to return to their cities of origin," the lawsuit alleges.

"The county has turned a blind eye to the homelessness crisis and failed to address the influx of people who remain in the vicinity of the Courtyard, unsheltered."

The city claims the number of transients in the city increased 77 percent from 2017 to 2019. The city says as of April 2019, about a quarter of the transients in the county lived in Santa Ana. And the city claims it does not have the resources to handle the problem.

The county broke ground Aug. 28 on a project with Huntington Beach to open up a shelter in the seaside city with 175 beds that aims to get transients into permanent housing.

The county has also participated in state and federal efforts to house transients who are infected with COVID-19 or are at a higher risk from getting infected in hotels and motels. The county Board of Supervisors last week voted to begin efforts to buy some of the hotels to continue the program.

Do addressed the lawsuit during a Sept. 1 board meeting.

"I understand this is election season and there is a lot of noise, a lot of people with no campaign platform who have a cheap stunt," Do said.

"We're a punching bag. I get it. My point is it misleads the public, and those misrepresentations from those acting without the best of intentions need to be pointed out and repudiated.

"We are doing the best we can, and I believe as a county we have made tremendous progress compared to many other jurisdictions that I see across the country."

After the board meeting, Do issued a statement saying the "allegations by the city of Santa Ana are completely groundless."

"The county has not been given any notice at any time of any incidents that would support any of the accusations levied by the city of Santa Ana," the statement reads.

"One would expect that the City Council or the city manager would've reached out to either the Board of Supervisors or our CEO to try to resolve any issues that may come up before taking this step. My hope is that elected officials and city officials are not so cynical as to use the litigation process and take up valuable court time as a political stunt."