Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin blasted the city and county as “structurally incapable” of responding to the region’s homelessness crisis and called for a consent decree under the supervision of the federal judge overseeing attempts to deal with the situation.
“We need to admit that the city and the county are structurally incapable of responding with appropriate urgency and vigor to our homelessness crisis, and must enter into a judicial consent decree under the supervision of U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter,” Bonin said in an article he wrote on the online publishing platform Medium. A consent decree is a legally binding agreement submitted in writing to a court.
Bonin said the homelessness crisis is a matter of life and death, but the city and county governments’ diffused power means there is no accountability for a slow response to the problem.
“Many city and county officials, with great effort and determination, have implemented successful projects and programs that are moving people off the streets and into housing. But it is still not enough; even as the number of projects and programs increase, homelessness increases even faster,” he said.
Carter has called an urgent meeting at a Skid Row women’s center on Thursday to discuss worsening conditions and what he considers the city’s failure to respond to the recent rainstorm that threatened lives on downtown streets.
Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring mental health and substance abuse issues, homelessness in the region is comparable to “a significant natural disaster in Southern California with no end in sight,” Carter wrote Sunday in an order filed in federal court.
Bonin noted that it is too easy for a single person or organization to block the city and county’s efforts to solve the crisis because they don’t want shelters in their neighborhoods.
A consent decree would offer a better way, according to Bonin.
“The decree should be clear and specific, with several phases, and if the city or county fail to meet any of the decree’s requirements, the judge should have the authority compel action,” Bonin wrote.
Bonin suggested the decree should require:
— sufficient housing and shelter that would allow everyone to get off the streets;
— long-term solutions, including housing and services, to prevent people from becoming homeless again; and
— permanent systemic change, including replacing the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority with “an agency with real power.”
Bonin also called for small scale changes, which would include additional social service programs and 24/7 caseworkers.
Bonin cited past consent decrees in Los Angeles, which he said brought significant and positive changes, including:
— a consent decree that created affordable housing units when the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway was built;
— a consent decree that forced the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve its bus system in the 1990s after neglecting bus riders;
— a consent decree that improved water quality in Santa Monica Bay through upgrades to the Hyperion sewage treatment plant; and
— a consent decree that created dozens of major reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rampart scandal in the 1990s.
“Tens of thousands of unhoused Angelenos need a path off the streets. Our neighborhoods need a path out of this dystopian crisis,” Bonin said.
“The city and the county need a path into faster, more aggressive, more universal action. A consent decree is that path.”
Carter is overseeing a federal lawsuit filed by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights seeking to compel Los Angeles city and county officials to quickly address the homelessness crisis.
The plaintiff, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, service providers, small-business owners, residents and community leaders, has won an agreement between the city and county to provide 6,700 beds, 6,000 of which are due by April.
The agreement was the result of an injunction issued by the court ordering the humane relocation of people living over, under and near freeways. However, without an anti-camping ordinance making it illegal for the homeless to return to their encampments, momentum slowed in September and October.
While there have been important victories during the past nine months – – including 8,000 beds put in place for the needy — bureaucratic tangles have blocked the path forward, according to L.A. Alliance attorney Elizabeth Mitchell.
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