Crude tarps and an array of broken furniture make up the encampments along the Santa Ana riverbed. It is difficult to differentiate between what is trash and what is someone’s property.
Life along the Santa Ana River Trail has changed since Jan. 22, when the Orange County Sheriff’s Department began notifying occupants they were no longer permitted to remain at their encampments.
Attorney Brooke Weitzman with the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center, is fighting against the eviction and filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven homeless people and the Orange County Catholic Worker association.
Federal Judge David O. Carter granted the temporary restraining order which prevents the Orange County Sheriff Department from enforcing trespassing laws, said Carrie Braun, Orange County Sheriff public information officer.
Although the evictions have been temporarily halted, riverbed residents remain uncertain of their futures.
“I think everyone has plans, but specific plans as to where (they will move), not a clue. I think that’s most of the case with lots of the people here,” said Tonya, a woman living on the riverbed.
An Orange County Board of Supervisors representative expressed disappointment with Carter’s decision, citing resources available to those in need.
“We have beds available at all of our shelters and armories. Anyone living on the riverbed who is willing to accept help has received help,” said Chairman Andrew Do, of the Orange County Board of Supervisors in an email.
Weitzman, along with attorney Carol Sobel, filed an emergency request with Carter on Tuesday night after they learned the county was planning to step up arrests and issue citations for trespassing.
Tonya said on Feb. 3 that there has been a heavy law enforcement presence almost every single morning.
She resides in a tent next to the Angels Stadium parking lot, with her dogs Ohana and Dolly.
Since the Fountain Valley river trail encampment was shut down in November 2017, Tonya feels one of the last places she can stay is the Santa Ana River encampment.
“I get the community’s distaste for all this. It’s ugly and when you look at it from afar it’s even uglier. It’s an eyesore in an area that is supposed to be nice,” she said. “Orange is suppose to be a great city, and all of sudden you have this, the largest homeless population I think ever and there’s people who just don’t know how to clean up after themselves.”
Tonya also said she is aware the encampment is not the cleanest. However, she pointed out that the city of Anaheim removed portable toilets which were placed along the trail by activists in May 2017.
“If you’re going to allow people to stay here at least give them the accommodations that are going to make it easier,” Tonya said. “You’re going to have less stuff smelling like s— if you actually have a s—ter for people to s— in.”
Another riverbed occupant, who goes by Batman, shared Tonya’s sentiment about the need for toilets, showers and clean water. Batman said he has been homeless since he was 16 years old. Now 33, he’s stayed at the riverbed because of his desire to help others.
“I’m the go-to person. If you don’t feel like going to the store, I’ll skate to the store, grab your food, water, ice, whatever you need,” Batman said. “It is not easy being the good guy.”
On Jan. 26, the Orange County Board of Supervisors began releasing a weekly progress report pertaining to the effort to clean up the portion of the trail between Memory Lane and Ball Road.
Since the effort began, approximately 2,290 needles have been collected, 110 tons of debris have been cleared and 27 individuals have been transitioned into various county and noncounty shelters, according to Chairman Do’s weekly report from Feb. 2.
Despite the services offered by the county, including transportation and kenneling for animals, not all residents plan on moving. Some, like Tonya and Batman, have remained even after they’ve been asked to leave.
If they are forced to relocate, they’ll only end up in a more visible, public area, Tonya and Batman said.
“I’m here. This is where I landed and this is where I am going to be,” Batman said. “I’m in their eyesight. Guess what? You’re going to see me anyway. Whether I’m here, or sleeping on a park bench, or a bus bench or sitting out in front of a store asking you for money.”