FOUNTAIN VALLEY Before a standing-room-only gathering of about 200 residents, police Chief Kevin Childe promised to “make things right” for homeowners and renters who live near a large homeless encampment that has sprung up next to the Santa Ana River in the northeastern portion of the city.
“We are committed to address what we can,” the new chief said at the town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21, while also cautioning “there are some things I can’t solve.”
Childe, who became police chief in June, and a number of officers talked about the homeless issues in the city and steps they are taking to address them and then answered questions and listened to complaints for about two hours at the hastily organized meeting.
About one-third of the people in attendance said they lived in neighborhoods adjacent to the river. They told stories of having urine-filled cans and feces thrown at them and of homeless bathing in their pools.
Homeowner Jennifer London recalled being chased and harassed by a river dweller swinging a rake at her.
“I don’t think people understand what it’s like,” said one homeowner who lives less than 20 feet from an encampment. “I am in prison behind shuttered doors and windows.”
Childe and other officers reminded residents that homelessness is not illegal and that the Santa Ana riverbed area is owned and controlled by the county and other agencies. On Sept. 15, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies began patrolling the river area in Fountain Valley and four other cities that border the river, including Anaheim, where the largest homeless communities are located.
“I have to give sheriffs a chance to succeed,” Childe said, noting that city police have seen more homeless leaving the river area in the last week.
Childe reminded residents that “being homeless is not a crime.
But “we’ll take them straight to jail if their behavior warrants it,” he said.
Julio Vega, the community resource officer with the Fountain Valley police, said he divides the homeless into three groups: those ready to move and willing to make changes; those who are unable to make changes due to mental or health issues; and those who are resistant to change, do not want aid and are often enabled by well-meaning residents.
Childe said officers are being trained in how to police the homeless, striking a balance between offering social services and enforcing the law. He said the department is increasing patrols in certain areas, using code…