Officials in Orange County on Monday evicted roughly 100 people living on a half-mile-long homeless encampment along the bank of the Santa Ana River.
It’s the most visible example of the growing homeless problem in Orange County. Driving along several nearby freeways, you can see miles of makeshift tents and tarps along the cement banks of the dry riverbed.
Monday morning, the county descended on one segment of that burgeoning population. About a dozen vehicles -- sheriff’s cruisers, garbage trucks and county health officials’ cars -- lined up and moved in early to help the homeless residents clear out.
The encampments lie in the shadow of two major attractions in Anaheim -- the major league baseball stadium for the Angels of Anaheim, and the Honda Center, home to the National Hockey League's Anaheim Ducks.
Those two sports venues had nothing to do with yesterday’s eviction, according to Orange County public works information officer Shannon Widor. He says this one section of riverbank is not part of the public trail that runs along the riverbed. Monday's move was prompted by public safety concerns, he said: It’s a flood channel.
"This is a non-public area we’re maintaining," Widor said. "We’re putting up security fencing, and we’re asking these people to move."
One of those people was Daniel Stockey, who has lived in the area, moving from spot to spot, for several years. Stockey said he’s never seen anything like the flood of homeless who have come to the river in the past six months or so.
"For a long time it was just a few people. I don’t know why it blew up like it did," Stockey said, “but then it was way out of control."
Over the past year, the county has helped build two homeless shelters, and plans have been floated for three more. But county officials and homeless advocates are hampered by a lack of affordable housing in Orange County, so for now the bulk of the huge homeless encampment will remain along the river, with regular trash pickups scheduled.
Widor said health officials were on hand during the eviction process to try to get some of the homeless residents hooked up with county services.
Stockey said he’ll just move on. He and his girlfriend saw the eviction notice posted on a fence five days ago, so he knew this was coming. He said he’s a union electrician, and hopes he’ll eventually be able to put a little money together to move to Oregon, where he has some family.
“I feel like a little golf and relaxation,” he said with a crooked smile. “Maybe we’ll go to Oregon soon.”
But for now, he and his girlfriend spent Monday morning packing up their tent and belongings, and loading their stuff on a little cart attached to a bicycle.
Where will the two of them go?
“I have no idea, really,” Stockey said. “I’ve been looking around for a few days now, trying to find a spot. And I just don’t really know.”
But one thing he does know, Stockey said, is that he’s done living along the riverbed. He expects these riverbank evictions to increase.
County officials said they have no immediate plans for more.