A last-minute off-site federal court hearing will be held Friday to discuss a judge’s proposed order to stop the homeless from living under and around Los Angeles freeways.
The hearing, expected to take place in a conference room at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority offices, was placed on the court docket after regular business hours Thursday.
U.S. District Judge David Carter is presiding over a lawsuit seeking to quickly house thousands of people in danger of contracting COVID-19 while living on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Carter said at a previous off-site hearing that the proposed order should not be seen as a “forced displacement,” and asked if it could be achieved as “humanely” as possible. The encampments under and around the city’s freeways have long been of concern for health and safety reasons, the judge indicated.
Carter ordered representatives of the city and county to submit an estimate Friday of how many people experiencing homelessness would be affected by the proposed order. He further asked for briefs by Wednesday discussing the parties’ positions on the legal justification for such an order.
The health risks “constitute an emergency and demand a swift response,” Carter wrote.
The question of how to handle the thousands of people sleeping beneath downtown freeways is one of the thorniest issues to come up during several months of talks stemming from the case.
Filed in March by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, the lawsuit accuses the city and county of Los Angeles of not doing enough to address the homeless problem downtown, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other problematic issues center on finding properties near Skid Row for use as shelters, the search for permanent and/or interim housing and the need for safe parking for those living in cars or campers.
Urged on by Carter, city and county officials have moved to get as many off the streets as possible. According to defendants in the suit, there are now 26 recreation centers in parks across the city that are serving as emergency shelters, providing more than 1,000 shelter beds during the COVID-19 crisis.
At a previous hearing, the judge expressed strong support for Project Roomkey, in which the defendants and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — which is working with the city — are contracting, operating and maintaining thousands of hotel and motel beds for “high-risk” homeless people.
Carter has pronounced Roomkey “a success. It may be incremental. It may not be fast enough. You’re not going to hear from this court a complaint this far about the speed.”
Over the past few months, Carter has managed to have dozens of new sanitation facilities installed in Skid Row, before turning to the freeway issue and the problem of safe camper parking for those living in their vehicles in a 50-block area in downtown Los Angeles.
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