Just down the street from Maxwell Park in West Anaheim, city officials and social workers helped clear out another homeless tent encampment of about 25 people from Schweitzer Park. Smaller skid rows by Angel Stadium also got swept yesterday following the opening of a nearby 200-bed temporary shelter before Christmas Day.
After county officials evicted homeless encampments from the Santa Ana Riverbed last year, Anaheim parks saw a resurgence of tent cities. The Skid River evictions also prompted lawsuits tying up enforcement with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter pressuring cities, like Anaheim, and the county to find more shelter space. Homeless folks camping out at Maxwell Park later lined the sidewalks with pitched tents until a sweep on Dec. 21 cleared the area of the sizable encampments, with dozens being taken to the newly opened shelter.
City officials also took action with another sidewalk encampment on a major street near the 5 and 91 freeway intersection that same day, even though homeless advocates dispute Anaheim’s ability to resume enforcing its controversial anti-camping ordinance with only a 200-bed emergency shelter open.
“It’s my understanding that there needs to be 325 beds available in order for Anaheim to be able to enforce their camping ordinance,” says Jeanine Robbins, an Anaheim homeless advocate with Housing is a Human Right OC. “It’s my opinion that Anaheim police and code enforcement are breaking the law.”
Before the seating of a new, incoming council majority in December, Anaheim approved two future shelters designed to meet the 325-bed space benchmark by early 2019 to settle the suit. After local elections, the new council moved quickly during an emergency Dec. 6 meeting to approve another 90-day shelter by Angel Stadium that would open before Christmas Day with the financial help of local corporations like the Disneyland Resort and construction muscle from the building trades.
Still obligated to make its total shelter bed threshold, Anaheim insists there’s no wrongdoing in conducting the sweeps now. “With the 200-bed shelter open, we have been able to address encampments with court oversight,” says Mike Lyster, city spokesman. “Judge Carter has visited the new shelter and was on hand at as we cleared Maxwell and Schweitzer parks. The situations at those parks were unsustainable and inhumane for those living on sidewalks and a bike trail and for neighboring schools, homes and parks.”
Harry Sidhu, Anaheim’s new mayor, put a compassionate spin on the opening of the emergency shelter and clearing out of tent encampments. “This could not have come at a more critical time,” he said in a city press release after the most recent sweeps. “The cold nights we have been experiencing reminds us that no one should have to sleep on the streets when there is a safe, warm and compassionate alternative available.”
With the homeless encampments at Maxwell Park and elsewhere having been cleared out over the past few weeks, the city states that the emergency shelter run by the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit, is close to capacity with 160 people.
The 90-day shelter will close once the two previously approved shelters are expected to open later this month and in February. Anaheim also has plans to build a permanent 400 to 600-bed shelter slated to open in late 2020.
Eve Garrow, a homeless policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, points to a Sept. 2018 Ninth Circuit ruling in stating cities like Anaheim should think beyond shelters and sweeps. The decision prohibits the government from criminalizing sleeping or lying in public if there are more people experiencing homelessness than available shelter space, something Garrow says Anaheim should be acutely aware of as it dismantles encampments.
“More broadly, we think the Ninth Circuit ruling provides an opportunity for municipalities to stop using law enforcement approaches to address homelessness and invest much, much more in real, cost-effective solutions that end homelessness, namely affordable housing and permanent supportive housing,” she says. “People desperately want to escape homelessness, but a dire shortage of affordable housing, coupled with prohibitively high rent in the private market, leaves many people living in shelters for months and even years.”
Story updated with comments from the ACLU and the city.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!