LA County Asks Ninth Circuit for Emergency Stay of Homeless Housing Order

A federal judge has ordered Los Angeles city and county officials to house or offer housing to homeless people by October.

This 2020 photo shows a homeless encampment on Beaudry Avenue as traffic moves along Interstate 110 in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill,File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Attorneys for Los Angeles County asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency pause of a judge’s order to house homeless people in Skid Row by the fall, saying the order interferes with efforts to combat the crisis.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter issued a preliminary injunction on April 20 ordering LA city and county officials to house unaccompanied women and children living in the Skid Row community within 90 days and families there within 120 days.

Every homeless person living in the 50-square block, open-air encampment must be offered some form of housing by October, Carter ordered.

The Central District of California judge ordered the county to cease sales of unspecified county properties that could be used to house homeless people. Officials must also provide a full accounting of all state, local and federal funds received to combat the crisis locally.

Carter later issued a clarification saying the injunction doesn’t apply to county properties already in the process of being sold but that the order applies to homeless people across the county, not just in Skid Row.

LA County appealed the injunction to the Ninth Circuit on April 21 and requested a stay from Carter pending appeal. 

Carter denied the request in an April 25 ruling but temporarily stayed the section of the injunction that restrains the county from selling or leasing its properties.

As part of the Ninth Circuit appeal, attorneys for the county wrote in the emergency stay motion Wednesday that Carter’s order interferes with initiatives to offer health care to the homeless and construct housing for them.

The injunction — which the county claims goes “beyond judicial activism” — would put a federal court, not county officials, in charge of administering hundreds of millions of dollars for county initiatives providing shelter and health care to homeless people.

“The district court issued an injunction that is procedurally defective and legally erroneous. The injunction fundamentally contravenes the constitutional separation of powers by usurping the role and function of municipal officials,” the county’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “The district court has disregarded the limits of its power, second-guessed voter-endorsed initiatives, and substituted its judgment for the judgment of elected officials and policy experts, and has created disruption, displacement, and confusion.”

The county asked the federal appeals courts to issue emergency relief by May 3. 

Skip Miller of Miller Barondess, the county’s outside counsel, said in a statement to Courthouse News an immediate stay of Carter’s preliminary injunction order is necessary to protect the county’s rights and ongoing work on this issue.

“The order not only violates the separation of constitutional powers, it will not solve homelessness in the region and lead to criminalizing it, undermining the trust and faith the county has worked long and hard to establish with people living in the streets,” Miller said in the statement.

Nonprofit LA Alliance for Human Rights, which is made up of business owners, developers and residents of LA who were formerly homeless, filed the underlying lawsuit. The group sued to address what they described as years of inadequate action by officials.

A spokesperson for LA Alliance for Human Rights didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the county’s motion.  

Carter scheduled a May 27 hearing for the county to argue against the contention in his injunction that “structural racism” has played a major role in the massive surge in homelessness.

The county said in its motion Wednesday there’s no evidence of structural racism or any harm to plaintiffs and that a stay is necessary because Carter’s ruling is a “procedurally defective moving target.”

In a court brief filed this week supporting its motion to dismiss the lawsuit by LA Alliance the county argued it has no authority to enforce anti-vagrancy laws in Skid Row and no powers to clear sidewalks there. The county also said Carter’s court is not the best arena for dealing with the homelessness crisis.

“While the county shares the goal of providing shelter to all people experiencing homelessness, this is not the proper forum to address how this should be accomplished,” the county said in its brief. “The problem of homelessness is multifaceted and involves complex issues of mental health, domestic violence, drug abuse and dependency, education, public housing, and personal finance. There are no well-pled allegations of fact showing causation by the county.” 

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