Santa Ana City Council voted unanimously on April 25 to include all 34 Orange County cities in the ongoing lawsuit against the county over homeless issues.
The lawsuit was initially directed at Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach for their refusal to shelter the homeless population removed from the Santa Ana Riverbed.
The initial plan for these cities to take in homeless people faced opposition, and was later rescinded by the county board of supervisors. Santa Ana demands a solution that distributes the homeless population more evenly.
“It has taken too long for other Orange County cities to realize Santa Ana has dealt with an unfair burden for years,” said council member Vicente Sarmiento in an April 25 statement, which the Daily Titan was directed to upon request for comment.
In the past, Santa Ana has tried to work with the cities on the issue, but in a statement by the city, it voiced dissatisfaction with the other cities’ unwillingness to help. The statement recalled the instance when only 12 of the 33 cities sent representatives to a June 2017 meeting on the situation.
Federal Judge David O. Carter, who has also expressed frustration with how the situation is currently being handled, is presiding over the lawsuit. In a March 25 court filing, he aired his concern with the county’s “cramming” of homeless people into insufficiently-sized facilities.
Carter said the overcrowding, along with “loud noises and dirty conditions,” has worsened a multitude of other problems in the area like sexual harassment and the aggravation of residents’ mental illness.
Sarmiento said it was Carter’s efforts, along with increasing noticeability of homeless tarps, that brought the issue to the attention of the other cities.
According to county findings, Orange County had 2,584 unsheltered homeless people as of 2017. Not only does this make up 54 percent of the current homeless population in the county, but the number of unsheltered has also grown by over 900 since 2013.
A 2018 Point-in-Time count found that 1,030 homeless people resided within the city of Santa Ana, 564 more than when the last count was conducted in January 2017.
Sandra M. Schwarzmann and John M. Funk, city attorneys for Santa Ana, said in court filings that the inaction from the 33 cities violates the Eighth Amendment, along with the equal protection and due process clause in the 14th Amendment.
“We are willing to continue being a leader in these efforts, but we need the county and our fellow cities to be good partners,” said Santa Ana council member Juan Villegas in a news release. “We demand better of our neighbors.”