U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered the city and country of Los Angeles on Tuesday to offer housing or shelter to the entire homeless population in the Skid Row neighborhood by October.
Skid Row, which has had large numbers of homeless people living there since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, currently has an average of 2,700 homeless people there on any given night. In recent years, the neighborhood has become infamous for being the epicenter of the Los Angeles and California homeless crisis due to the large number of tents and RVs crowding Skid Row sidewalks and streets, rampant drug use in about 70% of the Skid Row homeless population, and a high number of homeless deaths.
Judge Carter personally visited the area several times last year following a lawsuit against the city by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights. Last month, pressure for the city to assist the homeless in the neighborhood was intensified by the homeless advocacy groups filing a notice of intent for a preliminary injunction to order the city to house the homeless in Skid Row.
This led to Judge Carter’s Tuesday decision to issue a 110 page injunction, saying that Los Angeles had not only failed to confront the homeless crisis, but said that homelessness in the city and county had been exacerbated by racism.
“The city and county of Los Angeles created a legacy of entrenched structural racism, leaving Black people, especially Black women, effectively abandoned on the streets,” Judge Carter wrote on Tuesday. “Such governmental inertia has affected not only Black Angelenos, not only homeless Angelenos, but all Angelenos — of every race, gender identity, and social class. 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.”
“Virtually every citizen of Los Angeles has borne the impacts of the city and county’s continued failure to meaningfully confront the crisis of homelessness. The time has come to redress these wrongs and finish another measure of our nation’s unfinished work.”
“Today near Skid Row are thriving neighborhoods — namely the Arts District and Little Tokyo District. As these districts edge closer to the boundaries of containment, police presence within Skid Row grows stronger. For all the governmental declarations of success that we are fed, citizens themselves see the heartbreaking misery of the homeless and the degradation of their city and county. Los Angeles has lost its parks, beaches, schools, sidewalks, and highway systems due to the inaction of city and county officials who have left our homeless citizens with no other place to turn.”
In the injunction, Judge Carter laid out the housing plan, saying that single women and children must be offered housing by July, families by August, with everyone else by October 18th.
Carter also said that Mayor Eric Garcetti’s $1 Billion homeless proposal in his State of the City Address less than 24 hours before would be placed in escrow, with all funding and spending being reported to the court within a week should it pass. This would give the funding oversight and bypass bureaucracy, something which Garcetti, according to the judge, did not do despite being given emergency powers by the City Charter.
Many community leaders and homeless advocates celebrated the ruling on Tuesday, noting that the court will finally force the city to come up with a more viable homeless plan.
“Skid Row is one of the worst areas for the homeless today,” explained homeless shelter organizer Sandra McCall to the Globe. “Today’s injunction will do a lot of good for a lot of people. I mean, can you imagine Skid Row without all the tents? With visible sidewalks? With the formerly homeless now with a place to live? They’re making this happen and giving people dignity again!”
However, many also noted that, despite the strong oversight by the court on the city’s homeless spending, many other parts of the injunction are broken.
“I don’t think Carter knows exactly what the hell he did or what he thinks his power is,” said William Montero, a homeless advocate who helps find affordable housing and jobs for the homeless in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Glendale, in a Globe interview. “It’s really just a bunch of angry yelling but with no teeth. The sentiment behind giving thousands of people housing is great, but there are no standards whatsoever here. The city can just say they asked everyone, and homeless people can say they were never asked. This happens all the time, and the injunction just assumes everyone will do everything.”
“No, I’ve seen what happens in other cities with homeless like San Antonio and Phoenix and Chicago. Whenever one of these rulings or laws are passed down, they’ll keep it up for a few months, get the neediest people shelter, then say they did the rest. Because there is no one policing the ruling. You do a little, get some good press, then it fizzles out and everyone says they did it or that a lot of people refused help. Every time. And seeing how the judge in this case didn’t hand this down until after Garcetti proposed that huge homeless spending, and that there were no outlined consequences, it looks like this was just a ruling of the moment rather than to try and get longer change.”
“I’m happy with the oversight part by the court. LA will need to say where all the money is going, which is helpful. But this is just like any other homeless initiative in LA or elsewhere in the US since the Great Recession ended – all bark no bite.”
The injunction, barring any appeals from Los Angeles, will likely begin transitioning people out of Skid Row who agree to housing soon.