Thousands of beds may soon become available in motels/hotels for people currently experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, with an additional 2,000 beds used to quarantine those homeless exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, county officials said Thursday.
The information came at the third emergency hearing in a federal lawsuit, brought by the L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, against Los Angeles city and county for allegedly not doing enough to find solutions to the problem of thousands of people living in tents, cars and on the streets throughout the downtown area.
“Let’s get folks in shelters as quickly as possible,” U.S. District Judge David Carter said last week at the first of what he called “big tent” meetings.
The lawsuit took on a new urgency in the wake of the worsening coronaviris pandemic, which has left 21 dead in the county and sickened more than 1,200 more. Officials warn that the COVID-19 growth rate is so rapid that it could overwhelm Los Angeles-area hospitals in the coming weeks.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who spoke at Thursday’s hearing, has said that there are roughly 13,000 to 15,000 people living on city streets.
Although Carter set the hearings to speed up the process of getting people off the streets surrounding Skid Row, no decisions have apparently yet been made.
Phil Ansell, director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, told the judge that the county has agreed on a list of 5,000 available hotel/motel rooms, and that the state would negotiate with the owners on behalf of the county to lease an undecided number of them.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said that by Fridaym there would 13 shelters open at recreation and park facilities.
“That’s going to allow us to add about 150 additional shelter beds,” he said outside the hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
An attorney for the plaintiffs in the case told reporters that despite the fast pace of the hearings, the case hasn’t been settled, and the L.A. Alliance would step up their side if they don’t see continued aggressive action by the city and county to provide shelter for the homeless.
Moore said outside the hearing that the city and county were committed to “building capacity” for the homeless.
“I’m encouraged by what I heard in there today,” he said.
The complaint cites 58,936 homeless people in Los Angeles County, including 36,300 in Los Angeles — 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.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday that his department has released about 1,700 “nonviolent” inmates from the county jail system to relieve overcrowding amid the pandemic. Villanueva added that a substantial number of those people are now likely homeless.
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