Homeless woman vows to fight new court order to leave Mile Square Regional Park – The Homeless Times
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Homeless woman vows to fight new court order to leave Mile Square Regional Park

On most days, Nancy Wood makes her bed and carefully does her make-up. Sometimes she paints her nails, like many other women — except she lives in a tent tucked into the brush at Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Regional Park.

Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman, stops to fill her water bottle in Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Wood was acquitted last week of breaking the city’s municipal code, but the city obtained a civil court judgment ordering her to leave the park. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman, wears a sun hat while walking in Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Wood was acquitted last week of breaking the city’s municipal code, but the city obtained a civil court judgment ordering her to leave the park. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman, draws as she sits in her chair next to her bike in Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Wood was acquitted last week of breaking the city’s municipal code, but the city obtained a civil court judgment ordering her to leave the park. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman, draws as she sits in her chair in Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Wood was acquitted last week of breaking the city’s municipal code, but the city obtained a civil court judgment ordering her to leave the park. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman, walks with her bike and possesions through Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Wood was acquitted last week of breaking the city’s municipal code, but the city obtained a civil court judgment ordering her to leave the park. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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The city has labeled 75-year-old Wood’s encampment a “public nuisance” for violating Fountain Valley’s ban on sleeping in the park. Wood, for her part, doesn’t feel like she is posing a nuisance. She’s just trying to make due until she can find better accommodations that aren’t just “mats on the floor.”
“Nuisance. It’s so humiliating,” Wood said, leaning on her bike Tuesday near one of the park’s baseball fields. “Life happens, and the struggle to reintegrate into society, it’s hard. And I have homeless cooties.”
Wood and Fountain Valley are locked in a legal battle over her four-year residence in the public park. Wood won the first round last week when a criminal court jury found her not guilty on four misdemeanor counts of staying in the park after dark.
But as the criminal trial was underway, Fountain Valley attorneys hedged their bets by obtaining a written civil court order prohibiting her from living in the park as a public nuisance.
Mayor Michael Vo said he views the order by Superior Court Judge Derek Hunt as a bargaining chip in the city’s effort to persuade Wood to comply with the city code.
“We’ll try our best to work with Nancy Wood and anyone who breaks our ordinance, hopefully to find a better solution to help the homeless population,” Vo said. “We’ll inform her of what the court will allow us to do, but helping her is more important than enforcing the letter of the law.”
Appeal planned
Meanwhile, Wood and her criminal attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dan Maher, say she is staying put and plans to appeal the Nov. 3 court order.
“The civil order … is completely inconsistent with the jury’s verdict in her criminal case,” Maher said. “The Orange County Public Defender’s Office will vigorously defend any effort to prosecute her for violating the new order. The City of Fountain Valley insisted it would respect the jury’s verdict. However, the effort to lay the groundwork for new charges against Ms. Wood shows that wasn’t true.”
Wood’s case has become a symbol of Southern California’s thorny homeless problem, in which the law often collides with the humanitarian belief that not having a place to live shouldn’t be criminalized. The answer, some say, is to provide more services for the homeless.
“This is a wake-up call that we need to have more help,” said homeless advocate Donald Dermit. “It’s very difficult to get people in (homeless shelters). The majority of all the shelters are full.”
Doesn’t want to live outdoors
Wood said most of the shelters are unsanitary, especially in the age of COVID-19. She doesn’t want to live outdoors and would be happy to move to appropriate housing, she said.
She had an appointment to apply for HUD housing, but missed it because of her criminal trial, she said. “You would think there would be something out there, but it doesn’t work that way,” Wood said.
Fountain Valley police officers, who have a long history with Wood, repeatedly offered her a city pamphlet listing shelters and services — where it is difficult to find a bed and with phone numbers that she said nobody answers.
“It’s very difficult to hand somebody a pamphlet and expect them to navigate it,” Dermit said.
Wood said she told police that she couldn’t move because the government ordered everyone to “shelter in place.”
18 citations since 2011
Court records show Wood has been cited for 18 misdemeanors since 2011 for such things as trespassing, soliciting money and illegally camping. Many of the cases were dismissed.
In the latest criminal case, attorney Alexandra Halfman, representing the city, said she wasn’t seeking fines or jail time, but simply a “stay away” order that would force Wood to leave.
The city’s long-running dispute with Wood reached a critical point in 2020, when her encampment stood in the path of a park reseeding project, according to police.
At the time of Wood’s arrests, Maher said, two shelters were available to the county’s homeless population, but none was located in Fountain Valley.
The city is not a party to the agreement struck by U.S. District Judge David Carter in 2019 allowing some cities to enforce anti-loitering laws, but only if they provide adequate shelter space and connect homeless people to services.
Maher has said police officers, sometimes up to 10 of them, would surround Wood’s tent at 3 a.m. and pull her out. Then they would  tear down her encampment, pile her belongings into a dump truck and haul her away in handcuffs to the police station, where she would be released after hours in custody. But the mayor said enforcement of city rules is not the main goal.
“Our idea is to not go after an individual, but to keep our parks safe,” Vo said.
Wood is doubtful.
“I’m pretty sure their intent was to terrorize me out of the park,” she said. “They have no intention of trying to talk to me. They want me to go away.”
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