ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - Orange County is taking more steps toward dismantling homeless encampments along its river trail.
Starting Friday, Orange County will begin active enforcement of public hours along the recreational Santa Ana River Trail (SART) that runs adjacent to the Santa Ana River flood control channel.
"There's nowhere to go, there's nowhere to go, it's just going to put them back on the streets," said a man named Ron, who's lived along the trail for eight months.
Ron and dozens of others living across the Honda Center received fliers from sheriff's deputies about the stricter enforcement of public access hours.
"The enforcement of public hours will enable the County to ensure the safety and security of the recreational users of the trail, while simultaneously protecting the integrity of the flood control channel for its intended purpose," said Khalid Bazmi, chief engineer of the Orange County Flood Control District.
Anyone who goes into the area outside the posted hours of 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. could be cited. This will not affect the large encampment behind Angel Stadium because of a court injunction.
"Get people outreach if they choose to accept it and to do criminal enforcement for people that are committing crimes that are not status offenses. We don't want to criminalize the homeless," said Lt. Jeff Puckett from OCSD.
In addition to the active enforcement of public access hours, the county will permanently close the west side of the flood control channel between 17th Street and Adams Avenue in Fountain Valley to public use beginning on Nov. 10.
The east side of the trail between 17th Street and Adams Avenue, which runs parallel and is a paved portion of the SART, will remain open for recreational trail users during the publicly posted hours.
"We're not here to push anybody out quicker than they can humanly get out," Lt. Puckett said. "We anticipate anywhere between three days to two weeks."
Sheriff's deputies said this enforcement will slowly be ramped up, giving the homeless community some time to move out. The county said the hope is to get people to shelters, housing or the services they need, but some said they don't know where they'll go.
"We just ain't got nowhere to go, you know what else we're going to do, it's better than being out in the parks," Ron said.