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February 17, 2017

Settlement Agreement Reached but Lack of Adequate Housing in the OC Remains

SANTA ANA – Yesterday, Orange County officials reached a settlement agreement with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California on behalf of homeless individuals entrapped in the Santa Ana Riverbed. The county has agreed to provide adequate notice, access, storage and transportation to individuals vacating the riverbed.

The agreement follows a request for a temporary restraining order filed last Friday, February 10, 2017, in federal court by the ACLU SoCal. The TRO sought to prevent the county from imprisoning people in the riverbed, where they were held without access to food, water, medical services and restrooms.

Last week, the OC Department of Public Works erected multiple six-foot tall fences surrounding the homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Riverbed between Orangewood Ave and Chapman Ave. The fences are related to construction taking place in that area, but county workers completely encircled dozens of homeless individuals, many with disabilities, leaving no exits or entryways. Bounded by the fences on three sides and the river itself on the fourth, homeless persons there were essentially imprisoned by the county.

The settlement agreement, which was reached yesterday, requires the county to clearly post instructions to all persons encamped in the area to vacate by February 23, 2017, and to allow them to come and go to access medical care, food, water and restrooms and to move their property as needed. The county will also ensure access for emergency vehicles and personnel through that date. All personal property still in the riverbed on the 23rd will be held for 90 days at a county facility in Lake Forest. The county will provide free transportation to and from the facility for people to retrieve their belongings during that time.

“We were heartened to see Orange County do the right thing to address the emergency situation in the riverbed,” said ACLU SoCal Staff Attorney Brendan Hamme. “But the county still has much work to do to provide desperately needed permanent housing for the many people without it.”

While the settlement addresses the false imprisonment of the homeless at the riverbed, it does not address the homelessness crisis in the OC. The OC is one of the most affluent counties in the nation, but has yet to adequately fund its Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness that it passed back in 2010 and provide permanent supportive housing for its most vulnerable residents.

The ACLU SoCal continues to monitor the situation, reaching out to impacted people and informing them of their rights under the settlement agreement, and remains committed to working with the county to ensure that homeless residents are treated fairly and given the resources and housing they need to succeed.

Read the agreement at