When the Santa Ana Trail (SART) was established in 1977, the original purpose was to provide the community with a designated National Recreational Trail that enabled pollution-free commuting. It became a popular route for cyclists, runners, bird watchers, and other people who enjoy the outdoors. Now, the 30-mile trail has been occupied by a growing homeless population, living in tents and make-shift shelters. A non-profit recently counted 422 people living between Ball Road and Chapman Avenue.
SART Becomes Home for the Homeless
If you would like to see the current state of the trail with your own eyes, watch this video of a cyclist on the route in March of this year. Where you could once ride alone, with friends, or with family without a second thought, that’s no longer the case. Many feel unsafe and, in some cases, threatened. There have even been reports of attacks.
If you ventured onto the path at any time this year, you would’ve had to be on guard, looking out for dogs wandering aimlessly, debris on the trail, and the unpredictable nature of the occupants who reportedly walk on the path without paying attention to cyclists. Aside from the safety issues, there’s also the concern about human waste and drug paraphernalia leeching into the groundwater and down the river channel into the ocean.
Responses in the Community
As the homeless community grew along the SART, many non-profit and religious groups have visited the area to provide them with food, clothes, clean water, and other supplies. Councilman Jose Moreno suggested installing portable toilets to help the conditions remain sanitary. However, residents argued that this support was making the problem worse.
One Anaheim resident, Kevin George, launched a petition in July on Change.org titled, “No More Homeless Encampments: We Want Our Santa Ana River Trail and City Parks Back!” It collected more than 13,000 signatures! Then, an Anaheim City Council meeting took place in mid-September and over 60 people voiced their opinion on the matter. This resulted in the declaration of a public and safety state of emergency in Anaheim. Further, a temporary plan has been put in place and named “Operation Home Safe” to clear the homeless from the path.
The Plan for Change
The plan is to open a temporary emergency shelter for people living in the city’s street, parks, or riverbed. Once it is open, people will be made aware and asked to move. There is a local ordinance in Anaheim that prevents people from camping and loitering in public places so local law enforcement will begin to enforce the law after the shelter is open. Additionally, the plan calls for improved cooperation between the county, city, and neighboring cities, expanded outreach of behavioral and mental health services, and an expanded presence of law enforcement.
The Problem is Bigger than the SART
According to the LA Times, the issue is not isolated on the SART, Orange County authorities reported an 8% increase in the homeless population over the past two years. The current tally is 4,800 homeless individuals in the area. The OC is still trying to coordinate resources and find ways to meet the needs of this growing problem. However, for now, the plan for the SART is a step in the right direction.
Only time will tell if these actions will clear up the problem and restore the Santa Ana Trail to its true purpose; a safe and unobstructed path where the community can enjoy the outdoors and commute pollution-free. We’ll keep you updated as action is taken.
Q & A
What counties does the Santa Ana trail pass through?
The trail passes through the counties of San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange.
How long is the Santa Ana Trail?
The trail stretches for 50.3 miles.
Where are the trail endpoints?
The endpoints of the trail can be found at S. Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino and Huntington Beach Bicycle Trail at SR 1/Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.
Where along the SART is the homeless problem the worst?
According to the OC Register, the following stretch has seen the largest impact.
If you have had an issue while out riding the SART and need legal representation, our team at Sariol Legal Cycling is here to help. We are not only attorneys, but also avid cyclists in the Orange County area, and we are dedicated to helping other cyclists. You can reach us at 1-866-800-9399 for a free consultation.