fREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
fREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is the LA Alliance for Human Rights?
The LA Alliance for Human Rights began in the summer of 2019 as an informal, grassroots effort to come up with creative ways to change the trajectory of the homelessness crisis on Skid Row. The members of the group had experienced first-hand the devastating impact that a series of political and legal decisions has had on the community, both housed and unhoused alike. An idea was born to use the same mechanism—the courts—to break through the barriers and require City and County-led efforts to address the crisis. Thereafter the group, chaired by long-time Central City East Association general counsel Don Steier, commenced an organizing and fundraising campaign for legal fees and research into the issue. The group hired former Deputy City Attorney Elizabeth Mitchell and her firm of Spertus, Landes, & Umhofer to proceed with litigation. The Alliance has been talking with the City and County to explain our approach and explore interest in partnership. In addition to the original members—some of whom became the plaintiffs in the suit—the Alliance now includes non-profits, service providers, small business owners, residents, and community leaders who despair over the suffering on our streets and are fed up with excuses about the status quo. Since coming together last year, the Alliance has earned the support of groups like the Los Angeles Police Protective League, VICA, the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA, and the Midnight Mission.
What is the Alliance's plan?
The Alliance supports and advocates for a legally-enforceable Right to Shelter law and provision of services for every person on the streets, as articulated recently by Governor Newsom’s Homelessness Task Force. There are solutions that exist to provide basic shelter for less than $10,000 per bed, which is achievable under current funding structures. These solutions are known to and have already been explored by policymakers, but none have been implemented. We are here to demand and advance those ideas. Record levels of resources are currently being put towards housing and services for those experiencing homelessness, but those efforts are too slow and progress remains incremental at best, all while the number of people experiencing homelessness increases and conditions continue to deteriorate. The Alliance is pursuing legal action to galvanize and require our local leaders to fully address the crisis; no more people living and dying on the streets, no more open drug dealing and drug use, and no more neighbors living in fear. The Alliance wants to enable people to get off the streets immediately while policymakers develop long-term programs to address the causes and effects of homelessness.
Why a lawsuit? Why now?
Throughout our nation’s history, courts have stepped in to catalyze social change and mandate reforms when the incremental manner of the political process has proven to be insufficient. Unfortunately, today's courts have played a significant role in the development of the homelessness crisis through decisions that have curbed enforcement without compelling sustainable solutions. The political solutions have been overwhelmed by the homeless crisis. Progress is hindered by the confluence of ideological battles, inadequate state laws, and legal challenges that, taken together, have severely limited the options available to policymakers. The current litigation in Orange County shows that court intervention can bring order and urgency to this crisis.
What are the causes of action?
Given the conditions on our streets, the Alliance is pursuing a variety of legal claims, including violations of Due Process and Equal Protection, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), inverse condemnation, and nuisance. The basis of these claims is the continued rise of deaths and diseases on the streets, the public health and safety risks that homeless and non-homeless residents are exposed to, the mental health crisis, the failure to enforce existing laws, and the uneven application of policy and resources to address the needs of the community. The Alliance is not ultimately seeking to win compensation or damages for itself or its members; rather its goal is to expedite the housing and treatment of homeless members of our community.
What can a judge do that a city council/board can't do?
Our elected leaders have been frustrated and stymied for years in developing a comprehensive system of emergency shelters, bridge housing, and permanent-supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness. This gridlock has led to the crisis of death and disease on our streets. The Alliance believes there is an approach to litigation that will in fact enable our elected leaders to move forward with their preferred intention to treat those experiencing homelessness in an expedited manner. Courts can compel government actions. Courts can set and enforce deadlines and can impose penalties for failures to comply. Local governments are not currently required to provide shelter, which has led to paralysis by analysis instead of urgent action. This lawsuit and the eventual settlement would create the type of enforceable mandate that the Governor’s Task Force has recommended and make Los Angeles a template for statewide action.
What happens if you win? How could a lawsuit work?
We’re focused on getting those experiencing homelessness the help they need as quickly as possible by establishing mandatory deadlines to provide off-street sanctuary. This would entail: 1) identifying a sufficient number of sites to shelter thousands—not hundreds—and a plan for types of shelters to be utilized at each site; and 2) identifying funding to be used to build shelters in sufficient number. Realistically this deadline could be sometime this fall, meaning that people would be brought inside in a matter of months, instead of years (or never) as the current solutions provide.