Chapman University may feel dispersal of riverbed homeless

Impact of homeless evictions on Chapman University unclear, but campus is preparing.   

More homeless people may visit the Chapman campus as a result of people being evicted from the Santa Ana River Trail, but Chief of Public Safety Andy Burba said the campus is prepared.

“While I think we will see more of them, I’m not concerned,” Burba said. “Homeless people haven’t been a huge problem and we treat them like anybody else. If they disturb class or bug somebody we’ll ask them to leave, but we treat them the same as we do the kids skateboarding in the Piazza,”he added.

Burba said Public Safety responds to all student complaints, but the Department would use its discretion in deciding whether a person’s behavior and demeanor justified being asked to leave the campus.

Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do announced a reconstructed 3-month project to evict homeless individuals from the Santa Ana River Trail on January 26, but Federal Judge David Carter ordered a temporary suspension of the evictions Feb. 6.

Photo Courtesy of: Danielle Konovitch

The federal court order to halt the eviction was in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven homeless individuals against Anaheim, Orange, and Costa Mesa, after Sheriff’s deputies announced that they would begin citing and arresting people for trespassing if they didn’t permanently leave by Wednesday.

Last Tuesday, Carter ordered the county and city officials to finalize short-term accommodations for the hundreds of homeless people being evicted and in response, county lawyers and staff met in a courthouse to arrange 400 motel vouchers. If it wasn’t enough, they would open 300 to 400 more to be accommodated on vacant county land.

Departures from the riverbed started in May 2017 when 46 individuals from Bridges at Kraemer Places and 221 from the Courtyard Transitional Center moved into housing. In January, Orange County announced that 490 tents occupied by homeless individuals would be destroyed over the next three months, and speculation began as to where the 1,000 or so people who have been living in the river bed would wind up, despite being offered help and accommodations.

Homeless people are divided as to the effect a coming forced diaspora may have on Chapman.

Kim Gray, a 49-year-old homeless individual, who has lived on the Santa Ana riverbed for 8 ½ years, believes it unlikely that too many riverbed residents will be coming to campus.

Her current neighbors know of Chapman University but are unlikely to move to or visit the college, she said. Why? Being able to obtain food and water at more accessible places such as Denny’s and Burger King is more important to them than taking a stroll through an aesthetically pleasing facility. At the end of May each year, however, many river bed residents go “dumpster diving” outside the dorms for clothes, furniture, and resources left by students, noted Gray, who indicated that the death of her ex-husband from congestive heart failure factored into her losing her home.

Yet, “next steps” are certainly top of mind for her community. “The tension here definitely lightened since last week,” Gray said. “The judge’s suspension lifted a weight off people’s shoulders. But when it expires, people will have to scramble again to figure out where they’ll go next. Lots of people got nowhere to go. I was going to go toward Santiago Creek, which is where I first started since the death of my husband.”

And if Chapman students should encounter some new visitors? “I want Chapman kids to understand that we’re just homeless, and we’re not criminals,” Gray said. “Homelessness is an epidemic, but each person has a story,” she said.

Vicky Jeckel, 43, a homeless woman who has been sleeping in Hart Park for five years, said she expects at least some rousted riverbed residents to move into Hart Park, which is a short mile away from Chapman campus.

“I know a couple of people who like it down there, and I expect them to come here,” Jeckel said. “I don’t know what Santa Ana is doing with the $23 million they got to help the homeless or when they’ll do something real, but none of us are being treated well.”

Photo Courtesy of: Danielle Konovitch

The Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Orange County area received $23,458,682 in January of 2017 to house its growing and persistent homeless population, according to the San Bernardino Office of Homeless Services.

Officials have collected more than 80 tons of debris and 500 needles since January 22 and helped four people to the Courtyard Transitional Center. The County of Orange has free beds at the Courtyard Transitional Center, Bridges at Kraemer Place, and the seasonal Armory Shelters in Santa Ana and Fullerton for anyone who voluntarily leaves the Santa Ana Riverbed Trail. These organizations provide more resources including storage, transportation to County-run shelters and pet kenneling for 90 days.

Jeckel said she didn’t use the resources available to her because she was fearful of being robbed in the shelters offered, as her friends had been. She feels safer living self-sufficiently outdoors, she said. But she does feel as if her current residence is provisional.

“In the five years I have been homeless I have been harassed and ticketed for stupid things like having my bong out,” Jeckel said. “Cops always ask what we’re doing and we’ll be minding our own business, away from the playground and people over there. I always feel like I’m on the brink of eviction by cops here, they just don’t say it out loud.”

Her neighbor, Chris M 31, added that he, too, thought Hart Park might become more crowded with overnight guests.  “I got evicted last year because my last roommate, who is my friend’s ex-wife, went crazy from drugs and stopped paying rent,” said Chris, who moved to Hart Park shortly after. “So I’ve been out here for about a year and it hasn’t been bad. Cops are good to me, and I’m better off than a ton of people who have roofs over their heads but can’t afford to eat.” Chris M, has a bit of college history himself: He attended, but never graduated, from Santa Ana College and occasionally visits Chapman to obtain water from the campus Starbucks.

Chris said he hopes to go back and finish college someday, but feels he needs external encouragement to do so – and that is in short supply.

Photo Courtesy of: Danielle Konovitch

Leila T, 39, a homeless woman sleeping on the Santa Ana River trail, said she hadn’t been on Chapman campus since she toured it when she was 17, looking to enroll.

“I wanted to go but my parents didn’t qualify for grants,” Leila said. “I went to Santa Ana College and dropped out. So no, I haven’t been to Chapman recently, and I don’t plan on going. No one else around here has mentioned any intent of going there,” Leila said.

Most students interviewed said they were not worried about an infiltration of homeless people on campus.  Junior television writing major Laurel Speck said she was not inclined to call public safety unless someone was trying to mug her or hurt someone else  – and the housing status of someone committing a crime was irrelevant.

“If I saw a homeless guy on campus I’d probably buy him Rotunda sushi,” Speck said. “I used to work in the circle and there was a guy laying on a bench in the hot sun one day, so I bought him ice cream from A La Minute.”






Danielle Konovitch

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