ANAHEIM, Calif. – Southern California authorities on Monday went tent to tent telling the homeless living in a 2-mile-long (3.2-kilometer-long) encampment that the large riverbed encampment some have called home for years is being closed down.
Orange County sheriff's deputies called out to tent dwellers on the dusty trail designed for biking and jogging, letting them know county workers will haul their trash, store personal belongings and provide transportation to area shelters.
"We're basically informing all these folks, hey, you should have been gone by now," said Sgt. Shannon Parker after speaking with two homeless men who said they did not know where they would go. "It's a work in progress."
The move comes as West Coast cities grapple with a rise in homelessness caused in part by soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy. A drug addiction crisis and need for mental health services are also factors.
The decision had many of the roughly 450 people who live on the trail that passes by the stadium for the Los Angeles Angels baseball team on edge.
Heather Smith, 42, said she's been homeless for a decade after her husband left her and she was addicted to painkillers following surgery. She said she hasn't used drugs in years, but has no family and can't take her dog or cat with her to a shelter.
"There's no other place for me to go," she said, tears streaming down her face. "I'll probably end up in jail."
"People think we're all bad, and it's not true," she said.
Neighbors have long urged the county south of Los Angeles to shut down the encampment and restore the trail that leads to the Pacific Ocean for jogging and biking. They have complained about homeless people rattling shopping carts in their otherwise quiet neighborhoods and allegedly stealing potted plants and bikes.
Undersheriff Don Barnes said authorities hope to get the homeless to move voluntarily and avoid arrests. He said deputies cleared another portion of the trail previously in about three weeks without arresting anyone.
Barnes declined to give a specific timetable for the move, but said he hoped it would be completed "as soon as possible."
The trail that runs through the cities of Anaheim and Orange will be shut to the public for up to three months while the county cleans the area. Officials said they'll take a harder stance on camping after it reopens.
Officials in nearby cities are concerned that homeless residents will wind up living on the streets once they're pushed out of the riverbed.
That's what Brooke Weitzman, an attorney and advocate for the homeless, said she expects will happen since there's only 100 spaces at shelters that don't meet the needs of many homeless people.
"It's not effective. It's not humane. It's not giving people any choice," she said. "There's nowhere to go other than the city sidewalks."