One of the homeless at North Beach wears a Anti-Haters club t-shirt as a response to the antagonism he’s encountered from SC residents. (J.A. Bates / Lariat)
Tensions between the homeless and the city of San Clemente have resulted in a class action lawsuit about anti-camping ordinances
Several homeless individuals have opened a class-action lawsuit against five south Orange County cities— San Clemente, Dana Point, Irvine, Aliso Viejo, and San Juan Capistrano. They argue that anti-camping ordinances are being enforced without providing homeless individuals a place to go, being that there is only one nearby shelter in Laguna Beach which provides only 45 beds.
Their basis is the 9thCircuit Court ruling Martin V. Boise. In this lawsuit a group of homeless individuals from Boise, Idaho alleged that anti-camping ordinances were being enforced without providing them a place to go— this is a violation of the eighth amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments clause. The court ruled in favor of the homeless, saying that law enforcement cannot criminalize people for being homeless and sleeping in the streets.
Last year, a large encampment the Santa Ana riverbed was cleared because of concerns about cleanliness and the spread of disease amongst its inhabitants. As a result, they were forced to move elsewhere— some were put on busses and given vouchers for motels in San Clemente. This has led to the notion that encampments like the one at North Beach are made up mostly of transplants from the riverbed who went there after their stay at the motels was up.
An article published by Maura Mikulec, a social worker associated with the homeless at North Beach dispels this myth, “the truth is, there were only ever 30 people here from the riverbed, and none of the people living on the streets in San Clemente now are known to be people who were brought here from the riverbed.”
Residents of San Clemente have used the Facebook group San Clemente Life as a platform for them to voice their dissatisfaction with the homeless; the area around North Beach is the subject of a lot of these complaints. One post likens North Beach to skid row, and another complains of feces on the sidewalks. At a city council meeting on March 19th, 2019, Maura Mikulec was yelled at, told to sit down as she took the stand to speak.
Acts of antagonism from citizens are a daily occurrence for the homeless at North Beach. A source who requested to remain anonymous said a person had come to the homeless camp in early March and spilled someone’s belongings all over the hill overlooking North Beach, which was where some of them had initially set up tents.
The Ole Hanson Beach Club, a swimming complex owned by the city that neighbors the same hill allegedly installed a loudspeaker pointed at the homeless camping there which played the same song on a loop for 24 hours straight. Several days after the incident with the loudspeaker, the camp on the hill was cleared due to a city landscaping project.
“I believe that the community as far as the city government and a small minority of the community have had a really loud voice in trying to push out the homeless,”
said William Joseph Brown Jr., who is one of the homeless individuals that frequent North Beach. “One thing I want is for the city to leave the bathroom open during beach hours, from 4 am to midnight, instead of it being locked at sometimes 8 o’clock at night and not being open until 7 or 8 in the morning.”
Brown suffers from a rare hereditary eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has caused his vision to worsen as he has aged; he is now legally blind. He became homeless around 3 and a half years ago when his landlord kicked him out of the apartment he was living in because of issues with his roommate.
Initially, homelessness was a choice for him, because he decided to spend a year on the street trying to assist the homeless population. Now, he has no choice but to be homeless, because but affordable housing is nonexistent in San Clemente. Other homeless people who stay at North Beach share similar stories. Maura Mikulec said at least 9 of the estimated 29 homeless people at North Beach are certified disabled at the aforementioned City Council meeting that took place on March 19th.
This is a commonality among homeless across the country. The National Alliance to End Homelessness states that 50 percent of the homeless people in America are disabled and unable to work.
There still isn’t a widely accepted solution to the situation in San Clemente. Homeless advocates have supported the idea that shelters should be provided so that the homeless would have a place to go. The Orange County Sheriff’s department said they do not have the power to solve the problem of homelessness on their own and that the question of shelter is one that would have to be posed to the city.
The City would not respond to any requests for comment on the situation.