Tent City & The Homeless

Q & A With Sgt. Jeff Stuart

While the discussion about where to place a shelter has been postponed since the city council voted to declined a Multi-Jurisdictional Agreement with the County of Orange, the camp that grew for about a year near the Hunt Branch Library was dismantled. Fullerton PD's Public Information Officer, Sgt. Jeff Stuart, gave us some information from the PD's side of the camps existence. Here is his reply via email:

 
How was illegal camping enforced prior to the tear down? 
 
The City of Fullerton has a camping ordinance, which prohibits camping in areas other than those designated for organized camping.  That section is 9.12.230 of the Fullerton Municipal Code.  Generally, an individual found to be violating this section would be given a warning and if the activities continued, could then be issued a criminal citation.
 
What will now happen to people who are camping illegally?  
 
A number of community and faith-based organizations, as well as mental health clinicians have been working with the homeless to provide options for being on the streets.  Many of these organizations have offered assistance in the way of housing, transportation, and storage of personal belongings.  It is ultimately up to those affected individuals to decide whether or not to accept these offers.  Fortunately, several of the individuals from Hunt Branch have accepted the offers and are no longer living on the streets.  I just read a story this morning by Coast-to-Coast, in which one of the homeless from Hunt Branch accepted help and is being reunited with family in Colorado.  Coast-to-Coast arranged for bus fare, and there is a job waiting for the young man upon his arrival.  Unfortunately, many others have declined offers of assistance from these groups.  Most of these facilities have rules that include prohibiting the use of drugs and alcohol.  
 
These offers of assistance are not something that just occurred on Friday either.  Since May 2nd, clinicians, community and faith-based organizations have been out at the area on a daily basis, offering help.  Also, this is not something that came unexpectedly to those at Hunt Branch.  They have been advised repeatedly that this would be occurring.  You may have noticed that the Police response to this move was done in a manner as to be as compassionate and understanding to their plight as we could.  For this reason, we extended the deadline for those moving.  As long as it appeared that they were complying, extra time was given.  Many individuals had accumulated a large amount of items at their camps, which required additional time to remove and we made provisions to provide that time.
 
How many arrests happened at the camp during the course of its existence? What were the main causes of arrest?  
 
I don’t have a specific number of arrests attributed to the camp, since it’s inception, but I can tell you that in the three weeks prior to closing the camp, specially trained narcotics investigators conducted enforcement checks on six different occasions.  This resulted in over 50 persons being arrested.  Most of those arrested had extensive criminal histories.  Most of the arrests involved persons being under the influence of narcotics, possession of heroin or methamphetamine, possessing of narcotic paraphernalia, identity theft, possession of stolen property, and possession of switchblade knives.  We have investigated aggravated assaults between homeless.  In one case, a stabbing occurred over the theft of a towel.  In another case, a dispute over a dollar resulted in one suspect using a metal chain to strike another homeless person.
 
Most of the homeless I spoke with got referred to the camp by other homeless people. Have any officers told transients/homeless to go to the camp during its existence?  
 
I can’t speak directly to what the homeless person told you, but I will say that it is not uncommon for word to travel around the homeless community about places to stay or services offered.  This tends to be a factor in attracting more individuals to a specific location.  As far as officers referring others to this area, I am not aware of that happening.
 
Was it a benefit or detriment to the PD to have the homeless grouped together?
 
As far as a benefit or detriment, I can tell you that it was a tremendous drain on resources, as evidenced with the number of arrests, but also the other calls for service.  With the location of the camp so close to one of the busiest rail lines in Southern California, there were concerns that someone might be injured or killed by a passing train.  These concerns were realized on April 26th, when a 20 year old male [Andrew Powell] staying at the encampment, committed suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train.  This was the same subject arrested previously for aggravated assault in a dispute over a dollar.  
 
Local businesses have also been negatively affected.  The shopping center at Brookhurst and Commonwealth has had to hire private security to deal with the problem of homeless panhandling in the center, due to its close proximity to the camp.  I actually had a shirtless homeless gentleman enter the Okasuya restaurant while I was eating lunch.  He was coughing and appeared to be drunk, and even began panhandling to me.  When I told him I was a police officer and he needed to leave, he became belligerent, but ultimately left.  Later, as I left, I had a second homeless subject approach and beg for money.  If this is happening to police officers, I can only imagine what it happening to civilians.  
 
We have received reports of hypodermic syringes being left in children’s playgrounds.  We recently had a female homeless resident walk up to a grandmother who was holding her two-year old grand daughter and strike the grand daughter.  When contacted, she simply said that she did not like children as her excuse for hitting the child.  Another homeless man armed himself with a broken glass bottle and began jumping onto the top of cars as he claimed he was being chased by demons.  He was later arrested after telling people that he wanted to kill them.  These are just a few examples of the dozens of significant calls for service, related to the homeless.
 
Based on public safety concerns, the decision to remove the camp was made.  We have a duty to serve and care for all of our community members, regardless of their living circumstances, and have done so in a comprehensive manner to ensure that the homeless were and are offered all available services, while conducting ourselves in a respectful and compassionate manner.
 
I hope this answers your questions,
 
Disclaimer: Aside from adding the name Andrew Powell, Stuart's responses have only been spell checked.
http://thefullertonian.com/Content/Article/

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