Homeless people who last month were moved from the Santa Ana River to Orange County motels will have to leave those lodgings beginning Friday and go to shelters or residential medical facilities.

Nearly 700 people were removed from riverbed tents and lean-tos and given 30-day motel vouchers under an agreement overseen by a federal judge. But county officials said Tuesday those vouchers begin to expire on March 16, and people soon will be moved to other homeless shelters, recuperative care services and drug detox centers.

County CEO Frank Kim said there is enough local space to house the 610 former riverbed homeless who remain in motels. County workers will try to link each person with a proper facility based on the results of clinical assessment they conducted over the past month.

The county had only a couple hundred open shelter beds on Tuesday, but supervisors voted to allocate up to $2 million to increase capacity at county or privately-operated homeless shelters in case more space is needed.

“We’re going to give (them) an opportunity to opt in,” Kim said. “And we hope (they) do.”

But Brook Weitzman, an attorney for the homeless who negotiated the plan that moved riverbed inhabitants to local lodgings, said the county hasn’t provided proof that it has enough beds for everyone. She accused the county of rushing to shuffle people out of motels in a way that will harm them and cause them to become homeless again. She noted that some homeless people have experienced trauma that makes it difficult to live in a shelter.

“The county is well on its way to failing these people again,” Weitzman said. “The county has 200 open beds for 700 people. The math doesn’t add up.”

“Hopefully, the judge will intervene,” she added.

The county first attempted to clear the Santa Ana River encampment in January so it could conduct an environmental cleanup. But seven homeless people, represented by Weitzman, sued the county, alleging the evictions violated their civil rights.

In a series of unorthodox court hearings, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter helped broker a deal to get encampment residents into motels for 30 days while the county developed a plan to shelter the people afterward. The county finished clearing the encampment on Feb. 26.

Carter advocated for expanding space at existing shelters or installing storage structures on county land for homeless people to live inside. Since then, the county has added 65 beds to the Bridges at Kraemer Place transitional shelter in Anaheim. County officials say there are roughly 200 beds for people in need of acute care as they recover from medical conditions. There also is space at the county’s Courtyard shelter in Santa Ana, and at the cold-weather armory shelters.

Weitzman said in court documents that the county plans to move nearly 80 people out of motels on Friday and several hundred more over the weekend. County spokeswoman Jen Nentwig said the final 30-day motel vouchers expire on March 27.

Weitzman has asked Carter for an expedited status conference in the case to voice her concerns. Carter requested she and county lawyers explain their arguments in a joint filing due Wednesday.


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