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Orange County faces lawsuit over homeless encampment

A long-simmering dispute between Orange County public officials and advocates for the homeless is about to come to a head in court. On Tuesday, both sides will appear at a federal hearing for a lawsuit regarding the fate of a makeshift encampment of homeless Californians.

Law enforcement officials recently cracked down on Orange County’s homeless population, removing them from sidewalks, streets and other public areas. As a result, many homeless people settled in a makeshift encampment along a Santa Ana bike trail. Since January, county officials have attempted to shut down the encampment and oust its residents.

On Jan. 29, the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center against Orange County, claiming that the county has an obligation to provide alternative living options for the encampment’s residents. The litigants say that Orange County has not provided adequate resources for its homeless population. A district judge temporarily blocked law enforcement officials from arresting any citizens who refuse to comply with orders to vacate the encampment. Another lawsuit has been filed against the county alleging that removing the camp violates the rights of the disabled population living there.

County attorneys argue that the camp’s residents have been given sufficient advance warning to find new accommodations. They state that a nearby Orange County homeless shelter has never reached full capacity, despite the opposing party’s claims of insufficient shelter. Further, they contend that the trail must be closed in order to clean up several hundred pounds of human waste and thousands of syringes found near the encampment.

The case may be precedent-setting. As the cost of living has skyrocketed throughout the West Coast and other parts of the country, the homeless population has grown accordingly. Other counties, cities and states throughout the country are facing similar litigation regarding large encampments of the homeless. The issue will no doubt be a pressing issue for public entities in the months to come.

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