A federal judge will preside over a closed hearing Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles to discuss possible immediate solutions to the Skid Row homeless crisis in light of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge David Carter set the proceeding as a follow-up to a hearing last week in which a top Salvation Army official offered 17 newly closed thrift shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties for use as shelters during the pandemic.
A host of city and county officials attended the previous Los Angeles federal court hearing, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Police Chief Michel Moore, Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City Attorney Mike Feuer.
They were asked to sit 6 feet apart, and only four member of the news media were admitted.
Carter barred press and public from Tuesday’s hearing at the Alexandria Ballrooms, a historic downtown venue that’s hosted a variety of events, including Charlie Chaplin’s wedding ceremony. The space was apparently chosen for the size of its grand ballrooms, so participants will have space to follow social distancing guidelines.
In an order limiting the number of attendees, Carter allowed the parties to bring one lawyer each, and again invited Los Angeles city and county officials.
“The public and the press will unfortunately be excluded from this settlement conference, due to both the epidemiological dangers of the escalating COVID-19 crisis and the confidential nature of settlement discussions,” the judge wrote.
At last week’s hearing, Garcetti pressed for solutions to housing the thousands of people living in tents, in cars and on the streets throughout the city.
“This is best prevented and treated indoors, not outdoors,” Garcetti said, reiterating a series of emergency measures aimed at getting homeless people into temporary shelters. As many as 1,600 beds would be made available by the end of the week at 13 recreation centers across the city, with an ultimate goal of bringing 6,000 beds online at 42 rec centers in the coming weeks, he told the court.
The L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless, and disabled city dwellers, contend the apparent lack of services and alleged negligence on the part of city and county officials has resulted in a multitude of increasing dangers in the area.
Homeless advocate David Busch, founder of Raise Up Venice, said that while housing units and facilities are badly needed, “we’re going to need large group facilities once thousands of sick people begin overflowing current shelters and hospitals — and we need to care for those sick in group settings.”
Busch said what was once a homelessness issue is now a “health and human rights crisis.”
Carter is known for his often-hands-on administration of cases, most notably in Orange County, where he oversaw the opening of homeless shelters following the removal of thousands of people in an encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim.
In an effort to sidestep the red tape and bureaucracy that often hampers settlements in such cases, the judge urged the participants to exchange phone numbers, telling attorneys that he could be reached at any time.
“Let’s get folks in shelters as quickly as possible,” Carter said last week during what he called a “big tent” meeting.
Along with the rent-free Salvation Army offer, Carter heard from a builder of modular shelter structures that could be quickly shipped from Canada. The proposal offered 25,000 beds for $340 million. The use of motels, hotels and semi-permanent tents for temporary housing was also discussed.
Those issues are expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s hearing.
“People are perishing in the streets at a rate of three per day while the city and county of Los Angeles have tried but failed to stem this tide of human tragedy,” plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit. “The numbers alone are staggering.”
The complaint cites 58,936 homeless people in Los Angeles County and 36,300 in the city — an increase of 12% and 16% from the prior year, respectively.
“Some 75% of these are unsheltered persons who lack regular access to basic hygiene care such as toilets, running water to wash hands, showers, sinks, kitchen, laundry which has led to filthy (and unhealthy) conditions,” according to the L.A. Alliance. “Los Angeles bears the dishonorable distinction of hosting the largest unsheltered population in the country.”