The City Council voted Wednesday to settle a lawsuit that has altered Los Angeles’ policies on seizing the property of homeless people on Skid Row, and the decision will likely limit the city’s efforts to combat sidewalk encampments.
The city has long struggled with how to clean up and regulate homeless encampments, and in 2016 passed a law limiting the amount of belongings a homeless person can store on the sidewalk to 60 gallons. But in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge issued an injunction barring Los Angeles police and sanitation officers from seizing and destroying homeless people’s property in and near Skid Row.
On a 10-2 vote, the City Council on Wednesday authorized the city attorney to settle the case. Although the details of the settlement were not announced, it signaled the city will likely accept a policy limiting its power on encampment cleanups.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero’s injunction also ordered the city to segregate and store impounded belongings where they can be recovered, and the increased regulation has led to an escalation in the size of homeless encampments on Skid Row, where thousands of homeless people are located. The city is allowed to confiscate or destroy contraband, crime evidence and hazardous material or rat-infested property posing public health and safety issues.
The City Council’s decision on the lawsuit comes as the city has been fighting an outbreak of typhus which has not only impacted the Skid Row area but may have also found its way inside City Hall. An employee at City Hall East contracted typhus late last year and said she believes it was from being bitten by fleas in her office.
During a recent City Council meeting, Councilman Joe Buscaino pointed to the federal court ruling as being partly responsible for the typhus outbreak, since it has led to a significant increase in homeless encampments in downtown.
“That injunction is prohibiting our outreach workers from getting to our most vulnerable homeless population in and around the downtown area. So rats are a symbol of this injunction,” said Buscaino, who voted against the settlement along with Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the Skid Row area.
Typhus is not transmitted person-to-person, but flea-borne typhus can spread to people from infected fleas and their feces. Typhus infection can be prevented through flea-control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites, and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats and opossums, according to the Department of Public Health.
Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and rash and can be treated with antibiotics.