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LA is ordered by judge to offer shelter for entire homeless population on Skid Row by fall

Skid Row, one of the most famously troubled neighborhoods in all of America, is one step closer to its demise following an order from a judge. 

On Tuesday, federal Judge David Carter told LA officials they must offer shelter to the more than 4,600 people living on the streets in Skid Row, by October 18.

The order comes in response to an ongoing lawsuit LA Alliance for Human Rights – a group of downtown business owners and residents – who have accused the city of years of negligence which has allowed homelessness to soar in Los Angeles and tent encampments to spread.

‘This ever-worsening public health and safety emergency demands immediate, life-saving action. The City and County of Los Angeles have shown themselves to be unable or unwilling to devise effective solutions to L.A.’s homelessness crisis,’ Judge Carter wrote in a 110-page brief.  

If the city fails to follow the order, it appears that it could lose police enforcement to remove the unauthorized encampments. It is not clear if the The City and County of Los Angeles will appeal the order.

Pictured: Skid Row on Wednesday, one day after Judge David O. Carter issued his order

The homeless population has risen in Los Angeles since 2019 (Echo Park Lake pictured)

The judge’s new order aims to get people off of Skid Row by the fall (Skid Row in March 2020)

Homeless people are seen camping alongside the new studio apartment building which opened in the heart of Skid Row last week

Homeless people are seen camping alongside the new studio apartment building which opened in the heart of Skid Row last week

One billion dollars will be placed in an escrow account to tackle the crisis. The order states that LA county and officials must find land or properties for 455,000 new units of housing, including 185,000 units for lower-income tenants, to be able to home the 4,600 homeless in Skid Row.

One step towards that is a new studio apartment building which opened in the heart of Skid Row last week aimed at housing the homeless. 

FLOR 401 Lofts, at the corner of 7th and Wall streets, had 98 units each with a private kitchen and accessible bathroom. The building also offers a courtyard, community garden and community room with computer stations, a yoga room, and more. 

There will also be on-site case management including physical health, mental health, life skills and more, CBS reports.

The project is the first of three HHH-funded permanent supportive housing communities opening this year to provide homeless housing.  

The judge’s order states that the city must also provide ‘appropriate emergency, interim or permanent housing and treatment services,’ according to the Los Angeles Times.

The costs for those services would be split between the city and county.

Shelters must also offer single women and unaccompanied children a place to stay within 90 days of them asking help, rather than the typical 120 days. 

At last count, there were 66,433 homeless people in the county as of January 2020, including 41,290 in the city of Los Angeles, up nearly 14 percent from the previous year.

Once shelter is offered to everyone on Skid Row, the city can enforce laws aimed at keeping streets and sidewalks in the area clear of tents, which are ever-present on Skid Row. 

The city of Los Angeles wants to begin enforcing the clearing of tents along Skid Row

The new order mandates that everyone on Skid Row is offered housing by October 18

At last estimate, there are around 2,000 people living on Skid Row regularly (pictured in May)

Earlier this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to pour almost $1 billion into the crisis

Earlier this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to pour almost $1 billion into the crisis

While the order requires shelter to be offered, it doesn’t necessarily require it to be accepted, although the homeless people who choose to stay would likely face problems with law enforcement.  

There will also be an independent audit of recent spending related to the homelessness crisis.

The plan does require $1 billion to be placed in escrow although it’s unclear what would happen to those funds if the Skid Row population isn’t offered housing by the deadline. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti previously announced a plan to put nearly $1 billion towards the crisis, but expressed concern that the order was not the right way to go about it.

‘Putting a billion dollars in escrow that doesn’t exist doesn’t seem possible,’ Garcetti said after the ruling, according to the Associated Press.

Garcetti also isn’t sure about the speed of getting people off the streets, saying ‘That would be an unprecedented pace not just for Los Angeles but any place that I’ve ever seen with homelessness in America.’

Additionally, Garcetti questioned the legality of Carter’s order.

‘There’s a separation of powers that I hope folks won’t walk over,’ Garcetti said, according to Los Angeles Magazine.

‘I’m happy to help inform—whether it’s a judicial official like Judge Carter or anyone else—what we can legally and not legally do.’

Carter cited housing discrimination and other forms of racial inequity as part of the rationale for his order.

Lawyers for Los Angeles County are planning on appealing the judge’s decision.

‘We’re now evaluating our options, including the possibility of an appeal,’ said Skip Miller, who is representing Los Angeles County in the case.

There has been some dispute about whether or not this is a city problem or a county problem in terms of jurisdiction in the case. 

A motion to dismiss for the county is still pending, with a court hearing set for May 10. 

Carter was responding to a federal lawsuit filed in March 2020 by business owners, residents, and the LA Alliance for Human Rights, demanding solutions for the homelessness crisis. 

erena White (59) shows off her miniature baseball bat on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles

erena White (59) shows off her miniature baseball bat on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles

Judge David O. Carter visiting a tiny home village in North Hollywood in February

Judge David O. Carter visiting a tiny home village in North Hollywood in February

Carter (pictured with city councilmen) issued Tuesday's drastic order

Carter (pictured with city councilmen) issued Tuesday’s drastic order

The judge also expressed his frustration with the homelessness crisis that has dominated the area for years.

‘All of the rhetoric, promises, plans and budgeting cannot obscure the shameful reality of this crisis — that year after year, there are more homeless Angelenos, and year after year, more homeless Angelenos die on the streets,’ Carter said.

Carter had previously run a hearing outside of a Skid Row shelter where he threatened to get the court involved, making Tuesday the logical next step.

Daniel Conway, policy adviser for the LA Alliance for Human Rights, didn’t mince words when responding to the order.

‘This order is a vote of no-confidence in the mayor, the City Council and county officials,’ Conway said.

‘Carter is able to put together a history of racist and discriminatory policies and connect them to the policy failures of today. It shows the culpability of the city and county of LA for decades. Now they have to make it right,’ Conway added. 

Single women and unaccompanied minors must be offered housing within 90 days

Bikers park up at the street corner next to the homeless encampment in Skid Row

Bikers park up at the street corner next to the homeless encampment in Skid Row

The plan does require $1 billion to be placed in escrow although it's unclear what would happen to those funds if the Skid Row population isn't offered housing by the deadline

The plan does require $1 billion to be placed in escrow although it’s unclear what would happen to those funds if the Skid Row population isn’t offered housing by the deadline

One step towards that is a new studio apartment building which opened in the heart of Skid Row last week aimed at housing the homeless

One step towards that is a new studio apartment building which opened in the heart of Skid Row last week aimed at housing the homeless

FLOR 401 Lofts, at the corner of 7th and Wall streets, had 98 units each with a private kitchen and accessible bathroom

FLOR 401 Lofts, at the corner of 7th and Wall streets, had 98 units each with a private kitchen and accessible bathroom

The building also offers a courtyard, community garden and community room with computer stations, a yoga room, and more. There will also be on-site case management including physical health, mental health, life skills and more, CBS reports. The project is the first of three HHH-funded permanent supportive housing communities opening this year to provide homeless housing

The building also offers a courtyard, community garden and community room with computer stations, a yoga room, and more. There will also be on-site case management including physical health, mental health, life skills and more, CBS reports. The project is the first of three HHH-funded permanent supportive housing communities opening this year to provide homeless housing

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is among those with some trepidation surrounding Tuesday’s order.

‘There’s a lot of questions that we are seeking to sort through,’ Ridley-Thomas said to the LA Times. ‘Anytime the court shows up, there is justifiable fear and trembling.’ 

Matthew Umhofer, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, approved of the order.

‘This is exactly the kind of aggressive emergency action that we think is necessary on the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles,’ Umhofer said. ‘The city and the county and all the forces of the status quo have had decades to try to fix it and have not.’

Gary Blasi, professor emeritus of law at University of California, Los Angeles, also weighed in.

‘There’s no doubt that in the short run, this will reduce the number of encampments on Skid Row and increase property values,’ Blasi said to the AP. ‘But in the long run I fear it could make things worse by serving as an excuse to turn to police to clear people off sidewalks.’ 

Many on Skid Row, however, don’t know what to make of the order, including activist Suzette Shaw.

‘They’re putting the smallest Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound,’ Shaw said to the Los Angeles Times. ‘They don’t think we are real people.’

There is also concern about whether or not the order will do enough to help those on Skid Row dealing with drug problems or mental health crises, as well as what the housing options will be, as many are hesitant to go to shelters. 

Last month brought clashes with the police when they tried clearing the Echo Park Lake encampment towards the end of March

Last month brought clashes with the police when they tried clearing the Echo Park Lake encampment towards the end of March

Activists and supporters gathered at the homeless encampment, starting large protests

Activists and supporters gathered at the homeless encampment, starting large protests

Overall, almost 200 arrests were made during the Echo Park Lake clearing last month

Overall, almost 200 arrests were made during the Echo Park Lake clearing last month

Since the sweep of the park, it has been closed off to the public

Since the sweep of the park, it has been closed off to the public

Homelessness in LA

Los Angeles has been ravaged by its homeless crisis for the last decade, with the number of homeless people rising steadily from around 40,000 in 2011. 

In the last year, homelessness increased by 12.7 per cent in LA County because there aren’t enough homes people can afford, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

More than 63,000 people are homeless in LA County, the authority reports. 

The issue is most visible in downtown LA, where hundreds of people live in makeshift shanties that line entire blocks in the notorious neighborhood known as Skid Row.

Tents regularly pop up on the pavement outside City Hall and encampments are increasingly found in suburban areas under freeway overpasses.

Skid Row experienced a surge in Covid-19 infections at the start of this year with homeless sites ‘overwhelmed by the virus.  

Cases exploded in January among the homeless people who live in the area, which is known for being one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States. 

After averaging around 60 new cases a week during the fall, the infection rate among Los Angeles County’s homeless people doubled in the week after Thanksgiving and continued to rise at a rapid rate. 

Several state and local efforts have stopped short of tackling the mounting pandemic. 

In 2015, City Council members and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that they would declare an emergency locally.

However the proposal was abandoned because the mayor wanted a statewide declaration from then California Governor Jerry Brown, who refused the request.

Four years ago, LA voters then approved a tax hike and $1.2 billion housing bond to channel investments into helping solve the homeless crisis.

That bond money has so far been used to build more than half of the 10,000 new housing units planned countywide over 10 years – but housing is still in short supply.

In 2018, LA declared a shelter crisis, which reduced construction hurdles around developing emergency beds on public land.

Then in 2019, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Councilman Joe Buscaino put forward a proposal calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over the crisis – a call that never materialized.  

Last week, a new studio apartment building received a grand opening in Skid Row, hoping to get some of the homeless people off the streets.

FLOR 401 Lofts has 98 units and provides homes and supportive services to those experiencing homelessness, including veterans.

The studio apartments in the building include private kitchens and accessible bathrooms.

There is also a community garden, community room, computers, a yoga room, laundry facilities, and bike storage in the building.

Case managers on-site are able to help individual residents with physical and mental health needs, as well as any additional services required.

There are plans for two more permanent supportive communities to go up courtesy of the Skid Row Housing Trust this year.

There has been approval of the housing unit since it has opened.

‘It feels good to live here and feel accepted and it feels good to be liked by others that are in the surrounding here,’ one resident told CBSLA.

Concerns remain, however, about getting all Skid Row residents into that type of housing community.

‘We need our own little houses; everybody has to have their own separate bathrooms,’ Shanicka Bryan, 40, told the LA Times.

‘Ain’t anybody going to stay in shelter their whole life. We need a certain amount of distance.’

Asking homeless people to leave the areas they’ve designated as their home may also be challenging after last month’s issues at Echo Park Lake.

In late March, police attempted to close a homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake, with several people refusing to leave their home.

Protesters then arrived and an unlawful assembly was declared, resulting in the arrest of 182 people.

Protesters threw things at the police the LAPD claimed, leading to officers firing non-lethal rounds at protesters. 

Two residents of the area were also charged with erecting a tent in a city park after refusing to leave.

That night, 32 people from the park were moved into transitional housing, while around 200 people were moved to transitional housing over the course of the preceding week.

According to CBSLA, officials closed the park to the public, with no clear date on when it is set to reopen.

In addition to his previous vow of putting $955 million towards the homelessness crisis, Garcetti also proposed $24 million for a basic income pilot program.

The taxpayer money would give $1,000 to 2,000 households each month for a full year.

The money put towards the homelessness crisis is meant to aid a 2016 bond measure that aimed to create 10,000 housing units over the course of a decade, which the city is struggling to reach.

Since the proposition passed, only 110 homeless housing developments have been created.  

Since 2013, Los Angeles has increased their homeless outreach workforce from 11 people to upwards of 120.

‘We know the key to ending homelessness is homes. Let’s rent them. Let’s buy them. Let’s build them brand new,’ Garcetti said during his State of the City address, according to KTLA.

The massive city budget proposal must be approved by the City Council, though it’s unclear how the judge’s order will affect it.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the homelessness crisis in the city as people were scared to share close quarters in shelters and homeless encampments.

Skid Row was where people could find a bed and a meal in the 1950s before homeless people and Vietnam veterans were slowly confined to the area in the 1970s during the crack epidemic.

Encampments then began to proliferate from there, particularly when the Great Recession hit earlier this century. 


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