Judge Denies Bid to Delay Order to House LA Homeless

He did agree to give the city additional time to place $1 billion in an escrow account to combat the crisis.

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. (Courthouse News photo / Nathan Solis)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A California federal judge denied a bid by the city and county of Los Angeles to delay an order to house tens of thousands of homeless people by October, but granted a two-month extension of his order to place $1 billion in escrow for housing construction.

Last week, attorneys for the city and county filed separate motions to stay U.S. District Judge David O. Carter’s preliminary injunction pending their respective appeals at the Ninth Circuit.

Attorneys wrote in the motions that Carter likely interfered with government functions when he ordered officials last Tuesday to house unaccompanied women and children living in the Skid Row community within 90 days and families within 120 days.

In a ruling Sunday, Carter denied the motions, finding the city and county haven’t successfully argued the injunction causes irreparable harm.

“The court has set up goal posts for the purpose of accountability,” Carter wrote. “Accountability measures are not irreparable harms.”

In his preliminary injunction Tuesday, Carter ordered that every homeless person living in the 50-square block, open-air encampment be offered some form of housing by October.

Attorneys for the city wrote in a motion to stay that “decompression,” or the swift movement of thousands of homeless people on Skid Row, could lead to people being dispersed across neighboring communities. 

Carter wrote in his ruling that he acknowledges the city’s argument but that they can still comply with the order.

“The court notes that under the terms of the preliminary injunction, while the city is ordered to offer housing options on this timeline, Skid Row residents are not required to accept and may decline these offers,” Carter wrote.

Spokespersons for LA city and county did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. But attorney Skip Miller, the county’s outside counsel from the firm Miller Barondess, said they plan to seek a stay with the Ninth Circuit.

“We have great respect for Judge Carter and his desire to help the homeless, and we very much share his concerns. But we fundamentally disagree with the court’s application of the law and will be seeking a stay of his order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Miller said in an statement.

Attorneys for the governments also argued Carter’s ruling would unnecessarily push more people into crowded shelters or direct public funds to develop more temporary shelters instead of permanent housing. 

Carter rejected the argument Sunday, saying the order calls for a spectrum of housing options to be offered to homeless people while long-term housing is constructed.

“As emphasized previously, the court’s preliminary injunction calls for both interim shelter and long-term housing,” Carter wrote. “Homeless Angelenos cannot be left to die while long-term housing is in progress — no harm could be more grave or irreparable than the loss of life. Accordingly, the court finds that the public interest requires both the short- and long-term relief provided for in the preliminary injunction.”

The governments also argued the group that brought the lawsuit, called LA Alliance for Human Rights, has no standing to file claims because they can’t allege injuries to third parties to support their standing claim.

The judge rejected the argument, noting that members of LA Alliance filed court papers stating they’re currently homeless in and around Skid Row.

Carter noted the declaration of Wenzial Jarrell, a U.S. Air Force veteran injured in combat and currently experiencing homelessness.

“The world doesn’t know how bad it really is to live on Skid Row,” Jarrell said in sworn testimony filed with the court. “I know I am more likely to die because I live on Skid Row. It is a desperate situation.”

The Central District of California judge also order the city to place $1 billion in funds in an escrow account to ensure it will be spent on housing for the homeless.

Last week, in light of Carter’s ruling, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters the city won’t have access to the $1 billion until the City Council votes on the annual budget and that a chunk of the money is already tied up in current housing projects.

Attorneys for LA sought to delay Carter’s order to place the $1 billion in an impound account within a week.

In the 15-page ruling Sunday, Carter gave the city 60 days to file a detailed plan on where the $1 billion is sourced from and timeframes for when homeless people will be housed.

“The plan shall provide the court with a detailed breakdown of funding sources, uses, objectives, methods, and means so that the court can monitor the plan’s implementation. The plan shall further provide specific information about the number of homeless individuals who will be housed and by when,” Carter wrote. “Finally, the plan shall provide details on how the funding will be used to address racial disparities in housing and homelessness.”

Carter scheduled a May 27 hearing to discuss issues raised in the preliminary injunction.

The judge said he isn’t trying to direct officials’ management of government money but rather trying to get a full accounting of how much is available and how it’ll be spent.

The April 20 injunction also ordered audits within 90 days of all state, federal and local funds provided to LA city and county’s combined fight against homelessness and a full accounting of developers receiving funds from Proposition HHH, a voter-approved tax initiative ostensibly funding construction of 10,000 housing units.

Elizabeth Mitchell of Spertus, Landes & Umhofer, attorney for LA Alliance, urged the city and county to come to the settlement table.

“We applaud Judge Carter’s decision to deny the stay of his order as to the neediest on Skid Row. We share his sense of urgency when it comes to the rapid development of immediate and long-term housing solutions,” Mitchell said in a statement. “We hope that the city and the county take advantage of his offer to help broker a settlement, which is in the best interest of not only the parties, but the entire community.”

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