It’s always the overriding question whenever there is a push to get homeless people off the streets or out of other public places: Where will they go?

When Orange County decided to dismantle the tent encampments at the Santa Ana River Trail, that question was asked by the homeless people, advocates, and the residents and merchants in the neighborhoods of Anaheim and Orange closest to the bike trail.

It remains unanswered in the longer term.

The fate of a homeless population estimated to be as high as 1,000 people remains central to a civil rights lawsuit filed in late January that eventually led the county to offer 30-day motel stays to about 700 people, along with assessments of their needs.

It now has engaged the entire county in considering next steps on emergency shelters, transitional and permanent housing, and how to deal with transients who disrupt communities.

Costs and numbers

The motel program involved 51 motels, at an average cost of $95 per night for 582 rooms, said Jennifer Nentwig, a spokeswoman for the county. That would put the cost for the 30-day program, not including some extended stays, at about $1.6 million.

The county spent another $1.6 million on a six-month contract at an Anaheim motel used for longer-term mental health placements.

The last of the motel stays ended March 28.  Earlier this week, Orange County Executive Officer Frank Kim issued a memorandum to the Board of Supervisors outlining what happened to the riverbed people.

According to Kim, about half accepted services and referrals to shelters; 36 percent declined any offer of shelter or service; 15 percent left the motels before they could be assessed.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers.

Motel placements: 697

  • 589 assessed by county healthcare and social workers
  •  70 evicted before they could be assessed
  • 31  involved some unknown disposition
  • 7  left on their own before an assessment

Post-motel placements: 338 in shelters or other services

  • 149 enrolled in residential mental health treatment (accompanied by 22 partners or caregivers)
  • 57 entered Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim
  • 29 in interim housing while looking for subsidized or self-paid rental
  • 27 placed in programs of nonprofit service providers
  • 23 in substance abuse residential treatment
  • 16 entered the Courtyard Transitional Center in Santa Ana
  • 5 at the women-only WISEPlace transtional housing in Santa Ana
  • 5 in recuperative medical care
  • 3 incarcerated
  • 1 crisis residential treatment (mental health)
  • 1 hospitalized

Assessed and declined help or not completed: 251

  • 111 declined all services
  • 71 did not show up or left on their own
  • 39 staying with family or friends
  • 14 undecided
  • 8 no placement identified
  • 7 evicted
  • 1 died

Damages?

In a public discussion with two members of the Board of Supervisors on Monday, Kim remarked on the motel program by saying that most motel owners involved likely wouldn’t do business with the county in the future because rooms had been damaged, including furniture and carpet destroyed and items missing.

Kim said he expects claims for monetary damages will be filed against the county by motel owners in the coming months.

From another perspective, some homeless people and their advocates have complained that they were treated rudely, that amenities were removed from their rooms beforehand, and that some of the motels were rundown.

It’s unknown how many left the riverbed or the motels and are now camping out in public spaces or hidden areas, or sleeping in vehicles. But the bike trail area where they once stayed is now off limits.

Read the memorandum from Kim in full.

SCNG staff writer Jordan Graham contributed to this report.