On Thursday, December 16th, Judge David O. Carter conducted a status hearing to find out how the work has been progressing of creating shelter beds and clearing encampments from freeway underpasses. The goal of the agreement between Los Angeles City and County was to create 6,000 new shelter beds to add to the 700 beds already in development so that Los Angeles can provide 6,700 new beds for individuals experiencing homelessness living in underpasses, overpasses, and near freeways.
As part of the agreement, the County would give the City an additional $8 million bonus if 5,300 of those beds were “open and occupiable” by April 16, 2021. The City is confident that was achieved, but the County was doubtful.
Much of the controversy is centered around an audit the County ordered in April to verify the City’s claim that the requisite number of beds were created. The County is disputing the City’s claim and arguing that many of the beds “don’t count” as achieving the goal and, therefore, the County does not have to award the City the $8 million bonus.
The County’s auditor suggests that the City missed the mark with “uncertified” beds by as much as 52 percent. This matters because if the beds aren’t actually available, then the Court could order an evidentiary hearing which ultimately reinstates the freeway injunction he vacated last year.
Judge Carter was clear that such squabbling and delays took time and energy away from the issue of producing beds and assisting those suffering on the streets in the cold and rain. If the County and City could not work together to accomplish this small task, what were the prospects of creating even more beds and providing more treatment with a need of more than 66,000 people experiencing homelessness in the County?
LA Alliance attorney Liz Mitchell, repeating the Court’s earlier sentiments, compared the quarrel to two millionaires arguing over the cost of a hamburger while a man starved outside.
Representatives from a few councilmembers’ offices gave quick updates about the conditions of locations that Judge Carter had visited earlier in the year. Councilmember Krekorian and Blumenfeld’s representatives demonstrated successful projects which resulted in offers of shelter, services, and cleared encampments, and many areas had been restored to their pre-encampment conditions. Councilmember Bonin’s representative endured Judge Carter’s sharp tongue when Special Master Michele Martinez showed photographs of the underpass of Venice Blvd and the 405, which is still the site of a number of large encampments with many of the same residents that were living there months before, during Judge Carter’s tour.
The hearing appeared to demonstrate the reluctance of the County to break through the bureaucratic delays and inertia that has plagued the region’s response to the humanitarian crisis on the streets. It also demonstrated that people can be moved into shelter, receive services, and that public spaces can be reclaimed from homeless encampments – the very goals of the LA Alliance suit.
It is clear that the LA Alliance for Human Rights’ lawsuit has pushed the City and County to act and has brought much needed judicial oversight to cut through the unrealized political promises and bureaucratic delays. Instead of being reluctantly forced into a court order, the City and County would save time, money, and frustration by agreeing to a comprehensive settlement to provide shelter, services and treatment, and safe streets and public spaces.
Each citizen of Los Angeles can push their Councilmember and County Supervisor to act and expedite the important work of improving the lives of the unhoused and the communities across the region. Join the LA Alliance by signing up for emails and action at the LA Alliance website. Encourage your friends and neighbors to be a part of holding the City and County accountable. You can also support our work by donating making a tax-deductible donation here.