County Scraps 3-City Homeless Tent Plan After Residents Balk

A homeless tent city set up outside the City Council chambers in Santa Ana, California.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – The Orange County, California, Board of Supervisors struck down their own plan Tuesday to put large tents in the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house homeless people recently removed two other locations in the county.

With county-wide protests against the board’s proposal to construct tents, the supervisors voted 4-0 to peddle back on their plan and develop a new one under the supervision of U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter.

Board Chairman Andrew Do was not present for the meeting.

Last month, supervisors voted to spend a combined $90.5 million of county funds originally earmarked for services for people living with mental illness to provide permanent housing for homeless people. County officials were directed to research and develop plans for new construction or renovation of existing county-owned properties.

As part of an agreement in an ongoing lawsuit, county officials removed residents of the encampment on Santa Ana River Trail and temporarily housed them at nearby motels and hotels. Once the 30-day vouchers expired, county officials sent notices informing residents they would be moved to shelters or other social services. Some stays were extended on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys representing the homeless people filed a restraining order to block their removals from motels, saying that in some cases couples would be unnecessarily split up and people would be put into programs that didn’t match their needs.

The supervisors entered a subsequent agreement with advocates and city officials, brokered by Judge Carter at a day-long Saturday hearing March 17. The plan called for 200 beds or tents in Irvine, and 100 each in Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel.

The sites would only have been used if county shelters reached capacity.

But the plan drew outrage from residents and city leaders across the county, who threatened litigation. Officials in Irvine and Laguna Niguel voted to sue the county to block the controversial plan, and Irvine did sue late Monday.

Before Tuesday’s meeting began, a convoy of 22 buses arrived at the Santa Ana Civic Center with more than 1,200 Irvine residents demanding supervisors gut the plan.

At the meeting, Supervisor Todd Spitzer told county residents and city officials from across the region that responsibility for comprehensive care needs to be distributed equally across the county.

“It can’t be one city’s burden,” he said.

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