A federal judge has ordered sweeping measures by the City and County of Los Angeles to address their homelessness crisis. Judge David O. Carter’s order also called for all homeless residents of the Skid Row area to be offered shelter or housing by October.
Los Angeles has seen rising homelessness over the last several years. It is home to the largest number of unsheltered people in the country. California has about 151,000 people experiencing homelessness. Los Angeles County has a homeless population of 66,000; of which 51,000 are within the Los Angeles City limits.
The Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights led the suit against the City and County. In the face of a growing homelessness crisis, they say the local governments are legally mandated to provide shelter and housing to those living on the streets. The suit also wants City and County governments to develop plans to reduce homelessness. The plans must have real targets and enforceable deadlines.
Skid Row comprises about 50 blocks in Los Angeles, and has the largest concentration of unsheltered homeless people in the area. Skid Row has been a target for police and public health sweeps in the past. Because of these conditions, Judge David O. Carter had specific orders for City and County action in the neighborhood.
The court order requires the City and County to offer shelter or housing within 90 days to all unaccompanied women and children living in Skid Row. Within 120 days, shelter or housing must be offered to all families. Within 180 days, or October 18, all Skid Row residents must be offered shelter or housing.
Those who are offered housing must also be offered supportive services. The City and the County have to split the cost of the services. In addition, homeless Skid Row residents with mental health issues must be offered placements within 90 days This can be interim or permanent housing with treatment services.
Judge Carter’s order goes on to say that Skid Row residents cannot be involuntarily relocated to other parts of the city and county. It also says that City and County governments can still enforce local ordinances, like loitering and camping rules, after adequate shelter is offered. The ordinances need to comply with federal court rulings in the Boise and Mitchell cases.
The Boise case is a ruling that says local governments cannot criminalize sleeping in public places if there is not enough shelter available. A subsequent ruling in federal court clarified that local governments also cannot ticket or fine people for sleeping in public. The Mitchell Case ruled that local governments must make reasonable efforts to respect the property rights of homeless people. In many cases, homeless people lose their belongings in camp sweeps or when arrested.
Judge Carter also ordered the City and County to take broader steps toward reducing homelessness. They have to identify all land potentially available for new housing and report on all funding sources available to house people experiencing homelessness.
The Los Angeles City and County councils must prepare plans that provide low-income housing solutions. The reports must identify structural barriers to building new housing, like restrictive zoning or complicated building permit requirements. The plans must also propose zoning and permit changes that will accommodate more rental housing.
The City must also set aside $1 billion in escrow for shelter and housing for homeless residents. Mayor Eric Garcetti included $1 billion to address the homelessness crisis in his budget proposal for next year.
The order appoints a Special Monitor who will help the City and County implement the order’s terms. The Special Monitor will also help resolve disputes among the partners. The City and County will split the cost of the Special Monitor.
Los Angeles County has appealed the decision. The County has also asked for suspension of the order’s schedule because it will be difficult to meet. In addition, the County believes that the Los Angeles Alliance did not have standing to sue, since the organization has not been directly harmed by City and County policies.
Judge Carter rejected the request to suspend the order while the County’s appeal is being heard. He also quoted several homeless individuals who were included as plaintiffs when the Alliance filed suit. He pointed out that five people die each day on Skid Row, and that is the most severe harm that can be had. The testimony of the homeless plaintiffs also showed that they had been harmed by lack of action from local officials, such as long delays in assigning case workers.
This case is ongoing, and things may change on appeal. In the meantime, though, Los Angeles is bound by Judge Carter’s order. This means hope for new shelter, housing, and services for those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row and throughout the Los Angeles area.