The plaintiffs in a lawsuit addressing the Los Angeles homelessness crisis in light of the COVID-19 pandemic questioned Tuesday why costs for agreed-upon interim shelter programs appear “exorbitantly expensive.”

The L.A. Alliance for Human Rights said it applauds the swift action in certain council districts throughout the city to meet the Los Angeles city/county’s joint agreement to provide 6,000 beds for persons experiencing homelessness by April 2021 and an additional 700 beds in the months thereafter. However, the per unit cost of temporary housing is far higher than market price, the plaintiffs wrote in a status report filed in Los Angeles federal court.

The recently proposed Pallet personal shelter — or tiny homes — programs, created in accordance with the city and county’s Memorandum of Understanding, are being implemented at a cost of $39,075 per bed, not including services, the L.A. Alliance wrote.

“This stands in sharp contrast to the reasonably low cost of the Pallet shelters themselves — $8,332 per shelter (or) $4,166 per bed,” and stands in contrast to the low cost that other cities have managed with the same structures — notably $8,252 per bed in Riverside and $14,875 per bed in Sonoma, the plaintiffs alleged.

In a status report filed last month addressing the cost disparity, the city maintained other projects are not comparable because they were smaller, utilized donated labor, and multiple people would be served per bed, reducing the total cost.

However, the L.A. Alliance claims it has identified a per-bed rate, so the size of the project should not matter. Also, the city has “failed to demonstrate why volunteer labor could not be utilized in this project and why the multiple-people-per-bed theory wouldn’t be equally applicable to the other identified projects as well,” the document states.

“The ultimate concern with the high cost of these projects is the implication on future projects, and the ability of city and county to support significant projects moving forward,” the L.A. Alliance said. “If the city is paying such a high cost to shelter a limited number of persons, when basic cost-control measures could be taken to significantly reduce expenditures, plaintiffs are concerned those expenditures threaten to derail the higher goal of providing tens of thousands more beds. In other words, the city cannot spend exorbitant sums now and plead poverty later.”

The plaintiffs wrote that in the current situation, where projects are moving forward, it is not the intention of the L.A. Alliance to “derail or delay any projects which provide welcome relief to those who desperately need it; however on future projects plaintiffs strongly suggest more attention (should be given) to cost-saving measures that may be utilized to prevent such significant expenditures which threaten to leave too many on the streets.”

The plaintiffs also requested an accounting of the state’s Mental Health Services Act funds this year, including the amount currently unspent, and how those funds may be spent on shelter or housing for homeless individuals suffering from mental illness.

In a filing last week, the city reported that more than 335 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles have left the streets and entered housing since June, and of the target homeless populations, shelter has been provided for 20 people previously located within 500 feet of a freeway, 36 indigent individuals aged 65 or older, and 282 otherwise vulnerable people during the period from June 16 to last Thursday.

Also, a push to evict homeless persons living beneath or near area freeways is currently underway near Ventura (101) Freeway underpasses in the San Fernando Valley. Notices posted in those areas indicate that mandatory relocations from all areas within 500 feet of the 101 Freeway between Lindley Avenue and Valley Circle Boulevard would be required by Oct. 27.

The notices posted by the city refer explicitly to the homelessness lawsuit, referencing it by name and case number. The notices also state that representatives from Los Angeles federal court are overseeing the eviction.

The notices throughout Council District 3 state that effective Oct. 27, “anyone sitting, lying or lodging within 500 feet of the 101 freeway between Lindley and Valley Circle will be required to relocate,” and indicated that city municipal codes would be enforced to keep people away from underpasses after next Tuesday.

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