Coalition Sues LA to Force Action on Homelessness Crisis

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Local government agencies should be legally mandated to provide shelter space to the nearly 59,000 homeless people living on the street in Los Angeles County, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a coalition of residents and business owners.

The neighborhood referred to as Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles has seen an increase of people living on the streets in the last few years. (Nathan Solis / CNS)

In the face of a growing housing and homeless crisis, plaintiff LA Alliance for Human Rights cites a lack of results from local government agencies to build affordable housing or place people into temporary shelter space, so now they’re seeking court intervention.

Approximately 59,000 people are homeless in LA County and 36,000 in the city of LA, according to a 2019 homeless count which accounts for a 12% and 16% increase respectively.

In 2016, a $1.2 billion voter-approved bond sought to build 10,000 affordable housing units but in the last year projected housing costs soared from $350,000 to over $500,000 according to an audit report from county officials.

The complaint filed Tuesday in federal court seeks an enforceable legal mandate requiring LA County to provide shelter space to house everyone living on the street.  Earlier this year, a state homeless commission proposed the legal mandate approach, which would hold state and local governments liable to reduce the amount of people living on the streets and offer them affordable housing.

The mandate idea is only a concept at this point, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit want a right to shelter law and provision for wraparound services in LA County. The group, represented by the LA-based law firm Spertus Landes Umhofer, says they spent several months in discussions with city and county officials before they filed their lawsuit.

In many ways, the LA Alliance for Human Rights seeks to duplicate efforts of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in Santa Ana, who ordered county officials to meet and coordinate a response to the homeless crisis in response to a lawsuit over the forceful removal of thousands of people from a riverside homeless encampment.

“We’re modeling the relief we’re seeking after what they did in Santa Ana,” attorney Elizabeth Mitchell told Courthouse News. “It has been very effective in Orange County and we’re looking to duplicate that here.”

Members of the LA alliance describe itself as a “broad coalition” of residents who live or work in or around downtown LA’s Skid Row, but also includes support from the LA Police Protective League and the Midnight Mission located in Skid Row.

They also seek a deadline-driven plan to reduce encampments, increase social outreach and ensure care for people living on the streets.

“A court-ordered mandate is necessary to galvanized swift action; every other method has failed to date,” said the coalition in a statement.

Discussions with the city and county are ongoing, said Mitchell, and the group hopes to file a motion for a preliminary injunction in the next few months.

Plaintiffs in the complaint include business owners who operate in downtown LA, former homeless residents, disabled residents who use wheelchairs and can’t navigate around tents on the sidewalk and residents who say the lack of services has created a dangerous situation for their community. They claim negligence, violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, violation of due process, uncompensated taking and municipal liability for unconstitutional custom or policy among other claims.

An email to county and city officials for comment were not immediately answered.

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