Orange County to hire private guards to help enforce riverbed curfew that displaced homeless – Orange County Register

Orange County will hire private, unarmed guards to help impose its newly enforced curfew that has displaced homeless people living along long stretches of the Santa Ana River, paying a security firm nearly a half-million dollars annually for those services and other activities.

The Board of Supervisors approved the contract on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at a meeting where dozens of homeless advocates accused supervisors of criminalizing extreme poverty by clearing portions of the riverbed and not providing adequate housing for those who were displaced.

The board voted unanimously to pay California Panther Security $450,000 annually over the next two years to open and close more than 100 pedestrian gates along 29 miles of the Santa Ana River and to report trespassers to sheriff’s deputies. The contract is a significant increase from the $90,000 the company previously was paid to monitor park restrooms near Katella Avenue by the riverbed homeless encampments and to secure Irvine Historical Ranch.

The county forced as many as 200 homeless people to leave their Fountain Valley riverbed encampment on Friday, Nov. 10, and more people were told to leave other portions of the river to comply with public access hours.

Other local governments have hired private security to guard areas frequented by the homeless. The city of Orange paid a security firm $70,000 per year to patrol its parks after hours. And when Santa Ana partnered with the county in Sept. 2016 to increase security in the Civic Center, the plan included private security guards.

The sheriff’s department began patrolling the Santa Ana River encampments in September following complaints from advocates, neighbors, and politicians that a lack of police supervision has allowed crime to fester unchecked amid jurisdictional disputes between law enforcement agencies. Since then, deputies have made hundreds of arrests in the riverbed.

The county has, over the past 13 months, opened homeless shelters in Anaheim and Santa Ana and a small apartment complex for homeless veterans in Midway City. But homeless advocates complain that the county has spent little to none of its own money on permanent housing.

In June, county supervisors also approved a six-month, $720,000 pilot program to link the riverbed’s homeless with housing and services, and voted to spend $5 million in state mental-health funds for additional rental vouchers.

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