Hearing set for Santa Ana Riverbed lawsuit

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By John R. Harris

A hearing date has been set in the lawsuit challenging the County’s actions against the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless community. U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter has ordered all parties to appear before him on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The cities of Anaheim, Orange, and Costa Mesa were also named in the action.

The lawsuit alleged that the defendants’ actions violated the constitutional rights of those living on the Riverbed and were contrary to recent decisions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.

Those decisions found that authorities could not criminalize people camping or sleeping on the sidewalk when there is a lack of shelter.

In a press release announcing the hearing date Judge Carter confirmed the Court’s concern that homeless people evicted from the Riverbed may be cited under the cities’ anti-camping ordinance, “Even though [they] may not be able to find a shelter or other place to sleep.

The Judge instructed the defendants to bring to court details of all anti-loitering and anti-camping citations they have issued this year as well as, “Information about the number and background of homeless persons in Orange County and on the Riverbed specifically, and how much and what kind of shelter space is currently available.”

Housing organizations, veteran’s organizations, homeless service providers, and other support groups have also been invited to attend the hearing.

The County began the process of closing the Santa Ana Riverbed to the public and evicting the approximately 1,000 people living there on Jan. 22, but has made no significant progress in finding housing or alternate locations for those displaced. The lawsuit alleged that Anaheim, Orange, and Costa Mesa have blocked homeless people from staying in their cities.

When filing the lawsuit last week Brooke Weitzman, co-founder of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, stated, “Vulnerable residents of Orange County have no alternative. They came to the Santa Ana Riverbed fleeing criminalization in the Cities and if they are forced out of the Riverbed with no alternative, they will be unlawfully detained, ticketed, and arrested for behaviors like using a sleeping bag or using luggage.”

Catherine Sweetser, attorney at Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, added, “The County has demonstrated a pattern of using alleged maintenance projects to make public space less hospitable for homeless individuals without providing housing alternatives. It violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to punish someone for sleeping in public when they have nowhere else to sleep.”

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 13 at the District Courthouse in Santa Ana.

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