By Theresa Walker / Orange County Register
Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG
In 2018, Orange County reckoned with its growing — and increasingly complicated — homeless population.
The year began on a note of confrontation. It’s ending with cooperation in developing and planning strategies to provide housing and other services to homeless people.
From legal action to community engagement, it’s been a delicate balance between getting people off the streets and dealing with public safety concerns.
Lawsuits and settlements
Dating back to the 1990s, there have been lawsuits won and lost over panhandling, homeless encampments and seizure of property.
But no legal action has resulted in the broad impact and heightened expectations as the lawsuit filed Jan. 29 by Elder Law & Disability Rights Center of Santa Ana over plans to shut down tent encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail.
The county and three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — were named as the defendants.
But in reality, the action — or lack of action — by the county and all 34 of its cities had been challenged. A grand jury report released in May echoed the criticisms.
It took the Catholic Worker lawsuit, along with a tandem suit brought by Legal Aid Society of Orange County, to set a showdown in motion. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter pushed the parties to work together toward a settlement with potentially lasting impact.
From an agreement that initially saw about 700 people offered temporary motel stays by the end of February, there followed numerous court dates and conferences to work out disagreements over issues such as whether the care being offered, especially to people with mental health issues, was appropriate.