The Forgotten Ones - Santa Ana Homeless
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Saturday, November 12, 2016
By David P. Senner
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I thought that post election season might be a good time to publish some photos of the folks among us who have suffered the most in the past, and who certainly will be the ones to suffer most going forward, unless more people are aware of their condition.

Now that I've settled into my new studio in Santa Ana, I've hooked up with a Santa Ana based, online, investigative news agency, 'The Voice of OC' ( I am now doing some freelance work for them. Funny how it feels like I've come 360 degrees and now find myself flashing back to the mid/late 1970s and my days with the Lerner newspapers in Chicago.

Living as I do in the 'Artists Village' enclave of downtown Santa Ana, I'm also very close to the Orange County Civic Center, where a sizable homeless encampment has grown up over the past few years. I've been hesitant to publish this photo essay because it is still very much a work in progress. But now, in the aftermath of the election, it seems a good time to just send out the images and not try to explain them with too many words, but allow the images speak for themselves. This encampment of homeless people has grown up in the midst of a sprawling, governmental campus in downtown Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange County, California. It includes federal, state and city office buildings, as well as public and administrative offices for the County of Orange, the third most populous county in California. And then of course, there is all of the parking and green spaces that go along with the buildings. So it is a large campus - lots of physical space suited for camping out amidst all kinds of government office buildings. I've only been living here a short time myself, just about two months, but I've read and heard that this small community of homeless people (estimated to be 300-500) has grown in size substantially over the last few years. Long enough for it to have become a political football in the arena of Orange County politics.

At night near the Civic Center and along Broadway in downtown Santa Ana, one sees evidence of a significant presence of homeless in the area.


Mike, below, has his own little campsite setup, along with another 10 or so people in a government parking lot along Santa Ana Boulevard. A group of tents below right loosely defines one of many similar small encampments throughout the campus.                                       


A larger campsite has grown up right next to the Orange County Hall of Finance. Many of the homeless appear to be not so different than the rest of us - just down a bit on their luck in a rather unforgiving socio-economic environment.


While some of the residents of the homeless encampment sleep without much more than a sleeping bag or a blanket for protection, many have rigged tarps and tents to create shelter for themselves.

I guess that it shouldn't be surprising that such a large group of homeless have settled in just outside of the county's Hall of Finance.




                              Jesus works to keep his space clean and orderly and proudly posed for my camera.


The encampment is truly a community, where people even keep pets.   A shoe lost and found attempts to bring some order to the chaos.


Among many surprising aspects of the homeless encampment at the Civer Center is the number of women who are there. Some expressed that they do not feel unsafe and are even looked after by the neighbors. Others like Amber (below right) indicated that it can get scary at times - she said that she has been livinng in the encampment for about two years.


Donahue (below) is back at the encampment following what he says was a false arrest and imprisonment by local police, for which he is now assembling a legal case for appeal. He displays CDs with accumulated evidence for his case. He says that he has returned to the Civic Center to help teach people how to survive the life of homelessness in Orange County. Below right, he repairs a bicycle he acquired cheaply and plans to resell at a profit.


While wandering through the Civic Center campus, I ran into Matt Bates (below left), who is vice president of City Net, a Long Beach based organization that is helping place 30 homeless people per quarter into housing.  Heidi (below right) is camped out during the day in the middle of the Civic Center campus reaching out to homeless people on behalf of her local ministry.


The face of the homeless is diverse - as mentioned earlier, many look just like you and I, and while there are numerous others who obviously suffer from profound physical and mental health issues.  Matt Bates indicated that the poor soul, below right, can be seen almost daily in this same area of the Civic Center.


The residents here are very protective of their belongings and the spaces they've camped out on, and seem to be conscious of, in most cases, keeping their spaces clean and orderly, to the extent that this is possible under the circumstances


The mural below decorates the wall outside of the abandoned bus terminal on Santa Ana Blvd that is now opened as a service center and shelter for the homeless in the Civic Center campus. Below right, volunteers served lunch to the homeless in the middle of the Civic Center plaza.


Funny how some of the homeless, even though they have to improvise where they sleep at night, still have an awareness of the importance of recycling and even generating their own solar power. The last time I was through the Civic Center, it also happened to be the day that the repurposed bus terminal on Santa Ana Blvd opened as a service center and shelter for the homeless. I was asked not to photograph clients while I was there, although it was the first day opened and there did not seem to be many actual homeless folks in attendance. There was however, not surpisingly, the clear and visible presence of local politicans, making sure they to be seen.


                                     Jesus quietly, yet proudly, agreed to allow me to take his photograph for the poignant image below.    


I will be following up with this issue and where it is heading in the near future.



Leave a comment:
David Senner - Thanks, I appreciate your support. I want to do more relevant work like this.
dagfin - Great photo essay, Dave. It's troubling to see so much of this around the U.S., and it's useful to document it from an empathetic viewpoint and be able to pass it along.