A proposed court order requiring housing to be offered to thousands of people living on the streets of downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row area by August would improperly usurp the role of local government and upend longstanding programs already dealing with the crisis, according to documents filed overnight by the city and county of Los Angeles.
The filings late Monday night come in opposition to a request for a preliminary injunction submitted last week by the plaintiffs in a year-old federal lawsuit seeking to compel the city and county to quickly and effectively deal with the homelessness crisis.
If approved, the motion brought by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights would require that within 90 days of a court hearing next month, the city and county would provide interim housing to all persons experiencing homelessness living in and around Skid Row, a 50-block warren of downtown streets containing one of the largest populations of indigent people in the nation.
After alternative shelter is offered, the city would clear the sidewalks, and anti-camping laws would then be enforced to keep the area free of encampments, according to the motion, filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Attorneys for both the city and county strongly object, arguing in court papers that the L.A. Alliance’s “extraordinary” attempt to invoke the power of the court is “overbroad and unmanageable,” lacks legal standing and would “improperly usurp the role of local government and its elected officials.”
Such an injunction cannot remedy the complex causes of homelessness, according to the city, which contends it has made significant progress, including initiatives to create permanent supportive housing through Proposition HHH, interim housing through the A Bridge Home program, and creating over 6,000 new housing solutions within 10 months of entering a Memorandum of Understanding with the county.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 25,036 indigent persons were placed in interim or emergency shelters in the city last year, including 1,441 people in Skid Row. Of those placed in interim or emergency shelters, 3,733 people exited to permanent housing, and 4,690 entered transitional housing placements.
Cheri Todoroff, head of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, wrote in a declaration filed with the court that the requested injunction “ignores the regional nature of the homeless crisis. The county and its partners have built a robust infrastructure to provide strategic and deliberate services to people experiencing homelessness.”
County services include 11 departments and partner agencies working with the homeless, “regardless of whether they live in Skid Row or another area,” Todoroff wrote. She said the proposed order asks the county to prioritize Skid Row relocation efforts above all else.
“This would upend the county’s Board-approved, voter-endorsed process and interfere with contracting, provision of services, and housing efforts,” according to Todoroff. “To even attempt to comply with the terms of the requested injunction, the county would have to pull resources from other areas, which would mean disproportionately directing services with resulting inequities. The results would be devastating to (the homeless) outside of Skid Row.”
According to the L.A. Alliance, Skid Row is a “catastrophe created by the city and county” with its roots in 1976, when the city formally adopted a policy of “physical containment” whereby the poor, disabled and mentally ill would be “contained” inside the delineated borders of Skid Row, the plaintiffs allege.
The motion will be heard May 10 in Santa Ana federal court where U.S. District Judge David O. Carter — who is overseeing the lawsuit — is based. It is expected that the county’s request to be dismissed from the lawsuit will also be addressed.
Over the past year, with federal courthouses closed or not fully operational due to the coronavirus pandemic, Carter has held emergency hearings in such places as Los Angeles City Hall and a women’s shelter in Skid Row.
“Undoubtedly, both the city and county will feel that such an order is diminishing their powers,” the L.A. Alliance said in a statement when it signaled it would seek a preliminary injunction. “Yet, in the absence of a consensual agreement by the parties, court intervention becomes necessary.”
The L.A. Alliance said that after numerous settlement conferences and discussions, “it is clear that the local governments are unable/unwilling to address the problem adequately. The courts must take a more active role.”
Nine days after the lawsuit was filed in March 2020, the parties suspended litigation with the intent to explore settlement “and set the stage for a comprehensive solution in the city and county of L.A.,” the plaintiffs stated.
Proposed solutions have become bogged down in bureaucratic snarls between the city and county, prompting Carter to begin considering how he might deploy the power of the federal court to speed up efforts to get city sidewalks cleared and place homeless people into housing.