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By Eric Heinz

Since March 19, when federal Judge David O. Carter said he would permit the Orange County Board of Supervisors to rethink its location of homeless shelters or tent encampments, city leaders throughout the county have been on edge.

Many of the cities in Orange County have been worried about where the shelters would be placed, particularly if they would be placed on county-owned land near schools or other family-oriented areas.

The fears are based on a lack of knowledge of the people who would be staying in these collective areas.

On April 3, Carter, in essence, told the cities that they need to come together at a meeting in the near future to figure out the issues.

On April 2, the city of Santa Ana began a process to clear about another 100 people from the Civic Center courtyard, where many of the overflow homeless have set up camps. Other areas of the county could be tapped for shelters, but nothing is set in stone.

San Clemente doesn’t have any land within its borders that is owned by the county. There are agreements with the county for certain services, but not enough land to host a shelter.

San Clemente Mayor Tim Brown attended the hearing on Tuesday in Santa Ana at the federal courthouse.

Brown said it’s a bit of an awkward position for San Clemente as the city is not part of the ongoing lawsuit that was the catalyst to the current issues regarding homeless shelters in Orange County.

Brown said the only mayors who spoke to the judges in his chambers away from public view were from the cities that were involved in potential litigation sparked by the now-rescinded decision to place tent sites or homeless shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel.

“I was happy to attend, but I didn’t necessarily feel that was the right venue to assert (a point) because…if you’re not part of the action, what’s your place there?” Brown told the San Clemente Times after Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’ve had extensive discussions about what to do about the homeless. But the hearing was more about going forward. We’re going to continue to attend those meetings.”

Brown said the city is fairly “self-sustaining” when it comes to processing the city’s homeless population.

“The real challenge…is that if you don’t provide beds for someone to go to, you can’t arrest them for not going,” Brown said, regarding the fears many San Clemente residents have voiced in regard to San Clemente’s current homeless population. “Frankly, our sheriff’s deputies don’t have the tools to handle this problem.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Mary Perdue, the executive director of Family Assistance Ministries (FAM) in San Clemente, attended the hearing on Tuesday. During the proceedings, some South Orange County cities were accused of bussing homeless people from their cities to Santa Ana, where one of the few 24-7, unrestrictive homeless shelters in the county operates.

Perdue said FAM never sends people to Santa Ana for treatment unless it’s an uncommon referral for alcohol use disorder treatment. It’s uncommon for FAM to do this because they conduct their own assessments of homeless or people who are trying to avoid becoming homeless. Last year, FAM conducted assessments for 24 families that were homeless and constantly processes families through its organization to find them adequate housing. FAM also operates a few shelters in San Clemente, but people do have to meet some certain criteria and space is limited. They don’t operate “emergency shelters.”

Judge Carter eventually ordered the cities to come together at a meeting to discuss the issues and to come to an equitable solution. One such meeting is expected to come to San Clemente this month.

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