No portable toilets for OC homeless camp

A homeless man walks back to his tent along the Santa Ana River. Advocates for the homeless want to install port-a-potties on nearby land owned by the city of Anaheim.
A homeless man walks back to his tent along the Santa Ana River. Advocates for the homeless want to install port-a-potties on nearby land owned by the city of Anaheim.
Jill Replogle/KPCC

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Updated: Aug. 30, 12 a.m. 

Homeless people living along the Santa Ana river near Angel Stadium will not get portable toilets after an emotional meeting of the Anaheim City Council on Tuesday. 

For more than three hours, impassioned Anaheim residents spoke before city council for and against allowing the toilets. Several hundred homeless people live in the area and the nearest public bathroom is about a mile away. 

Advocates for the homeless said having toilets was vital to protect public health and the dignity of people camped out along the river. But some residents said the homeless encampments were already eroding the safety and quality of life in nearby neighborhoods and that providing toilets would enable the camps to continue. 

In the end, the city council punted on the issue. The land proposed to house the toilets is a fire training center jointly owned by the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Garden Grove. Mayor Tom Tait said he received a letter from a law firm just hours before the meeting suggesting that Anaheim would need permission from those other two cities. 

Plus, fire authorities said it would be unsafe, since helicopters land there and could knock over one of the portables. 

Several council members said the county should take responsibility for cleaning up — and eventually eliminating — the increasingly controversial homeless encampments. The county has jurisdiction over most of the land along the river, which is a flood control channel.  

The toilet dispute

Mohammed Aly, an outspoken advocate for Orange County’s homeless, said people living by the river have no choice but to relieve themselves outdoors.  

“And to expect them to live in it, that’s ridiculous, that’s inhumane,” he said.

Aly and fellow activists first put portable toilets on county-owned land in May. But the county quickly removed them, saying they lacked the required permits and proof of insurance.

A month later, the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced a $750,000 plan to improve conditions in homeless encampments along the river while seeking permanent housing for its residents.

Among the proposed services were mobile showers and drinking water stations, but no bathrooms.

The county did recently decide to keep public bathrooms next to the bike path along the river open 24 hours a day, according to county spokeswoman Carrie Braun. Nighttime security will also be provided.

Aly's attempt to get the toilets permitted by the city of Anaheim faced strong opposition from some residents. 

Nearby homeowner Kevin George said installing temporary bathrooms would encourage people to stay in the illegal camps.     

“What we would like to see is an enforcement first approach,” he said. George said the sharp increase in homeless people living along the river in recent years has severely eroded the quality of life in adjacent neighborhoods.  

“We still want to help,” George said, “but right now it’s anarchy.”

George recently started an online petition asking officials to crack down on the county’s homeless encampments. It recorded more than 1o,000 signatures by Tuesday night. 

The number of homeless people in Orange County has risen more than 7 percent over the past two years and more than 50 percent since 2013, according the 2017 Point-In-Time homeless count. An estimated 2,500 people sleep outside on any given night.

The county has been hit with several lawsuits in the past year alleging violations of homeless people's rights. A 2016 assessment of the county's homeless services found that there weren't enough shelter beds to accommodate the growing homeless population.