The notion of “best practices” isn’t new to the community of business, and certainly shouldn’t be new to local government.

I have to wonder, though, every time I drive through the underpass of the 101 Freeway on Alvarado Street and see the vacant eyes and scabbed bodies of the folks who live there.

Variations of the scene exist in locales around the city and county, threatening our quality of life and commercial atmosphere.

We all know this – voters acknowledged it by approving taxes to address homelessness. Yet nothing of any serious scale has been done.

The longstanding situation under the 101 Freeway tells us that we’re not far from the normalization of homelessness.

The broad dangers to public health are clear– the recent outbreaks of Hepatitis A were just one of many potential disasters lurking.

A less obvious aspect of this challenge occurred to me during a recent run on the bike-and-hike trail along Santa Ana River in Orange County. It was a regular route when I served as editor of the Orange County Business Journal, a sister publication. I’d seen homeless encampments there grow in numbers and take on airs of permanence in recent years.

Orange County also seemed stuck until recently.

Then came a federal judge named David O. Carter, who simply ordered the public officials of Orange County to do better.

They have – clearing the river bank and providing the homeless there with vouchers for local motels while representatives of social service agencies assess and refer folks to various options while observing their civil rights.

I was back in Orange County for a visit on a recent Saturday, and I stopped for a run on the river trail.

It was serene and beautiful in an urban, Southern California way – chaparral brush along the concrete encased river bed, where a long silver snake of water reflected the sun.

It was an altogether healthy and pleasant use of a public asset that’s intended to be healthy and pleasant.

That was different from recent experience – and the difference was the absence of homeless encampments and all of the concerns that come with them. It was a healthy reminder that homeless encampments shouldn’t be accepted as normal.

There’s no guarantee the plan in Orange County will work. The first batch of 30-day vouchers began to expire recently, and extensions are being granted on a case-by-case basis. The folks from the river banks are only part of the homeless population there. And you can bet that not everyone will be thrilled with whatever course is ultimately taken.

Judge Carter’s order has broken a log jam, though. He’s flown above the politics to force politicians to make hard calls. He’s remained grounded in telling the rest of us that everyone is in on this challenge, and insisting that homeless encampments are not normal.

That, so far, amounts to best practices on homelessness in Southern California.

Angelenos should take note before a federal judge does.

– Jerry Sullivan, Editor

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