Homeless camps in Orange County sparking new complaints

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- Within sight of Angel Stadium's "Big A" dozens of tents are popping up along the Santa Ana River trail.

Michelle Melgar lived in the actual dry riverbed for two years - mostly hidden from view until a few months ago when she says police told everyone to get to higher ground.

"They warned us El Nino is coming, it's going to be a big one, so get out of the riverbed. So we don't have anywhere to go," said Melgar as she stood outside her tent above the riverbed, next to the Santa Ana River trail in Orange.

The encampments are now more visible and closer to luxury apartment complex Renaissance at Uptown Orange.

"I feel sorry for them, but then again I'm also disabled. And I work really hard for the means I have in order to live here," said Wayne Zitter, who contacted us about the story through #abc7eyewitness.

Zitter says he pays about $2,300 a month to live in the gated community but lately residents have been complaining of noise, trash, drinking and trespassing.

"The reason we moved here was for the luxury and the peace and the quiet and the safety," said resident Keith Alves. "I don't feel I have that anymore."

Residents say they would like to see the encampments gone and they have complained to authorities. They've also started a Change.org petition.

The Orange Police Department says it started receiving more calls about the area of the riverbed a couple of months ago.

But it says enforcement is up to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The sheriff's department says since the encampments have moved closer to the fence line they're talking with the county and various cities involved about jurisdiction.

"Is this a city jurisdiction, is this a county jurisdiction," said Lt. Mark Stichter, spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "By no means does that mean that calls are being pushed off or responses are being pushed off. Absolutely not."

Orange County officials say they have received a "moderate increase" in the number of calls regarding homelessness in the river and Public Works has increased trash removal in the riverbed to four to five times a week.

County ordinances prohibit camping, taking up residence or leaving personal items stored on public property without permission, said Cymantha Atkinson, director of government and community relations for Orange County.

Some homeless say they have received illegal camping citations but are unable to pay.

"While the county may issue violations, instead the county has focused on outreach to the homeless including mobile nurses, veteran outreach, connection with services and housing and general messaging regarding danger along the flood channel to remove debris," said Atkinson.

She says they also try to connect the homeless with resources through the 211-OC system.

"It's really sad. We're just like everybody else. We're just a little less fortunate," said Charlotte Kramer who lives in a tent along the riverbed.

While homeless outreach volunteers drop off clothing and supplies regularly in the area, officials say the focus more on outreach instead of just citations is part of Orange County's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

The Board of Supervisors has also approved $8 million in federal and local funding for the development of permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Some residents, however, say they would like to see a quicker solution.

"I'm getting tired of it," Alves said.
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