Nurse makes her rounds at an unusual place – a homeless camp by the Santa Ana River

Spend a day along the Santa Ana River with Julia Cross, a nurse, and the mysteries of faith, hope and redemption unfold.

Carrying a kit of medical supplies, Cross pauses before four small tents that look like they’ve been outside for years, because they have. She calls out. Heidi Sanchez emerges between piles of clothes, cooking items – things we’d consider garbage but are, for her, means for survival.

Sanchez is 31 years old. Most of her teeth are gone, and the few that remain look like stalactites. She was 9 weeks old when her mother died. She was 13 when she ran away from Orangewood Children’s Home in Orange. She’s lived more than half her life homeless and for three years has remained in this spot.

In recent months, Sanchez and Cross have seen the homeless population along the Santa Ana River spike to more than 500 people. The reasons are many. But what matters is where we – as a county – go from here. For answers, Cross agrees to a bicycle ride-along.

Cross works for the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, particularly homeless kids. She patrols the Santa Ana River twice weekly by bicycle because she can cover far more ground than she could on foot. On this day, she will cover 25 miles.

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