Los Angeles County has settled a major lawsuit addressing homeless people living in poor conditions on Skid Row, and will now team up with the City of Los Angeles to create a one-two punch in which the city builds shelters and permanent housing and the county provides wraparound services, officials announced Monday.
On Monday Sept. 12, the county signed a settlement agreement with the plaintiff, LA Alliance for Human Rights, three months after the city settled.
The county’s agreement is expected to be accepted by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter within 30 days. Though still unofficial, the two sides are anticipating his approval of the agreement, and are planning how the new county dollars will help some of L.A. County’s 69,000 unhoused people to move into housing.
Matthew Umhofer, attorney for the LA Alliance, a coalition of the homeless, those living in poverty, those on the edge of homeless, property owners and small businesses, said at a press conference downtown, “We fought for our clients, and yes, at times we fought against the city and the county. But we’ve fought for our brothers and sisters on the streets and for the soul of this city and county.”
In March 2020 the Alliance filed an unprecedented lawsuit accusing the city and county of inaction that led to encampments, creating a dangerous environment for both businesses and residents in the 50-block Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.
In an unusual action, U.S. District Court Judge Carter in April 2021 set a timeline for the city and county to shelter people living in Skid Row, and for the city to put aside $1 billion to address the crisis. His order, to begin sheltering people by Oct. 18, 2021, was never implemented, as the county and city fought the Alliance lawsuit.
In an appeal in late September 2021, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Hawaii vacated Judge Carter’s order, finding that the order lacked legal standing and that Carter, who had visited the homeless in person and conducted interviews, had “impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence.”
The lawsuit gained considerable public attention, including impromptu public hearings near homeless encampments attended by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other elected officials. At first, the city and county attorneys fought the lawsuit, saying the Alliance’s use of the court’s power was “overbroad and unmanageable” and was an attempt to usurp the role of local government.
That changed in June when the city agreed in a court settlement to spend about $3 billion to develop up to 16,000 beds or housing units for non-mentally ill members of the homeless population.
The county added its own settlement offer Monday, for which the ink was not yet dry, said Fesia Davenport, L.A. County’s chief executive officer.
Under its settlement, L.A. County will spend $236 million through June 2027, said Los Angeles County Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell. Of that, $74 million will go to homeless engagement services and $162 million will go to dedicated permanent housing, she said.
Garcetti said that while the lawsuit was contentious, the city and county have been working to battle homelessness for eight years by bringing shelter to 130,000 unhoused people. “The problem has been we need to ramp up the pace,” Garcetti said on Monday.
Officials from both branches of local government said the lawsuit and resulting settlements acted as a catalyst that brought the two government entities together with a common goal and complementary resources.
City officials who spoke at the press conference Monday welcomed the county’s partnership, saying the city does not have services to help newly housed people thrive, such as mental health programs, substance abuse disorder treatment, job placement counselors or child daycare services. The city will rely on the county to provide those services, helping people make it in new housing, or preventing those on the edge from becoming homeless.
“The city can construct housing. The county can provide services for people in that housing,” said Matt Szabo, L.A.’s city administrative officer.
“This is what this agreement binds us to do,” Szabo said. “It sets a standard I hope we can build upon and use as a template moving forward.”
The five-year settlement will add more homeless outreach team members and mental health beds, said Umhofer. It will be overseen by Judge Carter. “This provides real accountability,” Umhofer said.
Some questioned if the county’s allocation was enough.
For example, the money from the county would increase mental health beds by 300, a number that L.A. City Councilman Kevin de Leon said was not enough — but a start. “Skid Row is an embarrassment for this city, the county and this country,” he said, adding that the deaths of many homeless from drug overdoses is a scar on Los Angeles.
Supervisor Mitchell said the new settlement is a small fraction of what the county has already spent, including $532 million from Measure H, a tax that raised money for housing the homeless. And the county has put $400 million from federal American Rescue Plan grants into helping homeless individuals.
“The city simply cannot solve this crisis on our own,” said L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez. “The county cannot solve this crisis on their own. Today with this new agreement we’ll be able to reach a turning point in this crisis.”
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