On Friday November 10, 2017, Orange County began enforcing public hours on the Santa Ana River Trail from Huntington Beach to Anaheim. The East side of River Trail will remain open during the hours of 7 am to 6 pm beginning Wednesday November 15. On the day before the evacuations around 12 pm, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) conducted a training exercise across the Fountain Valley encampment in between Harbor and Edinger.
Around 50 sheriff and police cruisers were up and down the trail as a helicopter flew over landing near centennial park about 20 times. The training was ongoing for five hours. Many of the homeless believe this was a scare tactic that seemed to work.”The County and cities are declaring war on the homeless by criminalizing their every move,” says Lou Noble, a homeless advocate “When sheriffs and cities’ PD train like a SWAT team and do it right in front of the people they will be pushing away the very next day, that’s harassment and intimidation.”
“I have PTSD and I know I won’t be able to sleep the next couple of days, not that I ever do,” Armand, a veteran living on the trail, says, standing next to an American flag. “The military made me a no man when I came back from serving in the marines for 14 years. I had no chance. They teach us to be killing machines and then throw us back into society; what am I supposed to do with that skill? The county offers us shelter, sure, but the shelter feels more like a prison: curfews and regulations like I’m some kind of criminal,” he continues. “We [veterans] offer support to this country and others during times of distress; hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and what do they give us back, a two weeks notice to get the hell out of their sight.”
12 Orange County Sheriff deputies and a handful of police from different cities came onto the trail at 9 am on Friday to oversee the dozens of homeless gathering their belongings. By 11 pm, the makeshift tents that occupied the trail a week ago were almost gone. Homeless men and women made their way up and down the trail hauling their belongings on their bikes. In the middle of the chaos sat a women on a lawn chair with her head down. Her name is Bridget Powers, age 51.
“I’m tired,” she says. “It’s unfair that the county is moving the homeless from city to city. They don’t have a longterm plan: They just wait until a complaint and move us to another place until the next complaint.”
Bridget suffers from Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer that begins in cells of the lymphatic system. “I’m grateful for my neighbors,” she says. “When I began chemotherapy a couple months ago they brought me food and water, when I could not move my belongings quick enough they came to the rescue. We are a community. I don’t want to be an embarrassment.” Tears form in her eyes. “I don’t want to be homeless,” she says. “I miss my friends, but how do I return to a society that has labeled me a criminal for being poor?”
Many of the homeless people who remained on Friday admit to not knowing where they will go next. “We gave them two weeks notice when we are only legally obligated to give them 72 hours notice,” explains Carrie Braun, spokeswoman for Orange County. “There has been outreach from various agencies and they have connected with the local veterans but no one has accepted the offer.”
The Sheriff’s Department has told the homeless that they will be patient and let homeless continue to move their belonging through Saturday but after that if anyone refuses to leave they will begin to arrest anyone who is trespassing. On Friday only one arrest was made: Jose Luis, a homeless man who is schizophrenic and has not taken his medication.
“I am a proud and strong veteran but today….today I have tears in my eyes,” Larry a 53 year old veteran of the Army tells OC Weekly. “As a soldier I never had a home. You go where they tell you to go. I was on the Panama River for two and a half years as a Water boat operator, the Orange County native says. “And I guess its kind of an oxymoron to say I settled down here [Fountain Valley] since I’m a homeless but this was home.” He points to his nearby tent. “Today people are thanking me and thousands of other vets for our service but their thank you to me is not warming when they are simultaneously kicking me and the other six veterans that live here out. I’m going to go. I don’t know where, but I am going to go but not quietly”.