Another good try as thousands still sleep on L.A. sidewalks

The lawsuit by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights against the city and county of Los Angeles has now been settled, and as soon as the county’s part of it receives final approval from the judge overseeing the case, it will go into the books as one more thing that was tried but failed to solve the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles.

It was March 2020 when a coalition of downtown L.A. business owners and residents filed a lawsuit demanding that the city and county provide shelter space to homeless people living on the streets. At that time there were approximately 59,000 homeless people in the county, 36,000 in the city, according to the 2019 homeless count. Those numbers represented an increase of 12% and 16%, respectively, over the previous year.

The lawsuit sought a federal court order that would mandate the city and county to house everyone on the streets in some type of shelter. According to the Ninth Circuit’s 2018 ruling in Martin v. Boise, local governments may only enforce a ban on sleeping on the streets if they have an adequate number of available shelter beds at the time.

Activists who profess to be advocating for the civil rights of homeless people fight tooth and nail to prevent the construction of temporary housing or emergency shelters. They want taxpayers to provide individual apartments, unconditionally, for everyone who is living on the streets for whatever reason.

Pressure from activists has included lawsuits seeking to prohibit local governments from enforcing any health and safety laws that would ban encampments on the streets. The city of Los Angeles has settled some of these lawsuits, with catastrophic results.

Under the 2007 settlement in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, the city agreed to stop enforcing the ban on sleeping on the sidewalk everywhere in the city during the overnight hours until another 1,250 units of housing for the chronically homeless were constructed. Though the housing was built, the ban was never again enforced. And even though the settlement made camping on the streets legal only between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., there was no will in the City Council or the mayor’s office to allow law enforcement or sanitation workers to clear the sidewalks during the day.

Under the 2019 settlement in Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles, the city agreed not to limit the amount of belongings that homeless individuals may store on the sidewalks. The settlement also set new notification requirements for encampment cleanups and strict rules for the removal of anything that could be considered property. Authorities must determine and document that anything seized “is abandoned, presents an immediate threat to public health or safety, is evidence of a crime, or is contraband.” Although the settlement applied only to the downtown area, the potential for another lawsuit effectively made it the policy everywhere.

After the Mitchell settlement was approved by the City Council, the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights was formed and filed its lawsuit against the city and the county. U.S. District Judge David Carter was assigned to oversee it, and throughout the pandemic there were many high-profile hearings and thunderous statements.

So, how did it turn out?

The city agreed to spend up to $3 billion developing 10,200 permanent housing units and 3,100 interim housing beds for homeless individuals who are not mentally ill. People with mental health issues, the city said, are the county’s problem.

The county has now settled its part of the lawsuit, agreeing to pay an additional $236 million for services, outreach and temporary housing for what officials called “the most vulnerable” of the homeless population. The county will also provide services and administrative support in city housing projects.

The county agreed to be under the supervision of Judge Carter for five years.

That’s pretty much it.

The homeless population, according to the 2022 count, is now 69,144 in the county, 41,980 in the city.

The crisis on our streets was caused by the settlement of federal lawsuits. The attempt to use a federal lawsuit to solve the crisis has now concluded.

It was a good try.

Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley