Sheriff's deputies and public works crews descended on Orange County's largest homeless encampment along the Santa Ana riverbed Monday, hauling away trash and advising people who live there to start packing their belongings as authorities start the process of clearing the camp.
The operation was described by county officials as the first step in a lengthy effort to clear the encampment, although homeless advocates kept a close watch on the activity, collecting donations to assist those being relocated and spreading word about the their plight. Members of an activist group posted a sign on a fence along the encampment border reading "Eviction Day'' and "Where am I supposed to go?''
County officials said they were advising transients of where they can find shelter and telling them they must eventually find a new place to go.
"This is a slow, reasonable, very methodical approach to how they're handling this today,'' said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "This is the start of the big project, but we recognize this as just a start.''
Sheriff's officials "recognize these are people, and some of them have been encamped here for a long time and have a significant amount of personal belongings, and we recognize that there's no expectation that the flood-control channel will be clear by the end of the day today.''
Since July 1, representatives of the nonprofit City Net have reached out to 623 transients along the riverbed, Braun said.
"They've been down here on the flood control channel every day, seven days a week, available for resources like bottled water or any variety of other things they need,'' Braun said.
So far, 169 have accepted help finding alternative housing, Braun said. But she said at least half appear to have refused any help.
Braun said sheriff's deputies will be taking a multi-stage approach to enforcement. First will come outreach, then warnings and finally citations, she added.
Despite the flurry of activity -- including sheriff's deputies going tent-to-tent to speak with the homeless, and trucks hauling away loads of garbage -- Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said, "There's really nothing going on today... They're trying to make this as gradual as possible.''
No firm date has been established on when everyone living along the riverbed in the shadow of Angel Stadium must clear out, Lyster and Braun said.
"It'll probably be sooner rather than later, but they're not going to do it in one fell swoop by any means,'' Lyster said.
Santa Ana officials have taken the same approach at the Plaza of the Flags and around the civic center and Orange County Superior Courthouse. The population has been reduced, but many transients remain on the property, living under tents, which is prohibited.
Posted signs at the Santa Ana River Trail warn that the end of the encampment is imminent, and six shipping containers have been placed strategically, ready to store tons of personal belongings once the mass exodus begins, the Orange County Register reported.