Federal judge orders L.A. to provide shelter for thousands of homeless people

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The city of Los Angeles has failed for years to successfully deal with its massive and growing homeless population, but it took the coronavirus pandemic and a federal judge to finally force officials to act.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, in a preliminary injunction, has ordered Los Angeles city officials to find shelter for thousands of homeless people who are living near highways, citing health concerns, the L.A. Times reported.

On Friday Carter, a President Clinton appointee, ordered Los Angeles county, city, and homelessness officials to find space in shelters or obtain alternative housing for an estimated 6,000-7,000 people who are living near or beneath freeway overpasses, ramps, and underpasses.

The ruling gives officials until Friday to come up with a plan.

The judge noted in his ruling that homeless people who are living near highways are both at risk of contracting coronavirus and then spreading the disease as well as being exposed to lead and other carcinogens. He also noted they could be struck by passing vehicles.

“As with many issues involving individuals experiencing homelessness, no party appears to be addressing this problem with any urgency,” Carter wrote.

While it’s difficult if not impossible to know how many people are living near or under bypasses and highways, estimates say there are as many as 3,000-4,000 people in the city of Los Angeles alone, with the rest living in other cities in L.A. County or unincorporated areas.

The ruling is Carter’s most significant in requiring local officials to deal with some 60,000 homeless people throughout Los Angeles County. The order is the result of a lawsuit filed in March by the advocacy group L.A. Alliance for Human rights, which targeted public agencies throughout the county. The suit accuses officials of permitting unsafe, inhumane conditions to exist in homeless encampments.

After the case was filed, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and local officials were compelled to devise a solution to a problem that, ironically, some of their policies and those of previous California officials have exacerbated.

For his part, Carter has seen the problem up close. The Times reported that he has toured skid row and other homeless regions so he could better understand the problem. But that said, the judge also appears to be getting impatient with a lack of action or progress on the part of city and county officials to deal with it, according to Daniel Conway, a policy adviser with the alliance.

He told the Times he hopes that Carter’s ruling is the first towards later decisions that will compel city and county officials to finally act on the issue of homelessness.

“Everyone’s committed to seeing this through,” Conway told the paper. “The challenge becomes, how high are we aiming here? Are we trying to meet thresholds for the sake of a legal settlement or are we trying to fundamentally change how we deal with homelessness?”

The paper noted that while homeless residents could not be required to go to a shelter or to a housing unit once they become available, they could be ordered away from highways and bypasses.

But, according to TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, an internist and addiction medicine specialist, L.A.’s homeless problem isn’t due to a lack of housing. He says it’s a mental health issue and that city and county officials have not effectively dealt with it.

“This is not a housing problem,” he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in August 2019 after no one in an early 2020 Democratic presidential debate bothered to mention it. “This is a mental health crisis and the federal government does not have specific jurisdiction over mental health in the Constitution.

“We have had total decay of our mental health provisions for the chronically mentally ill. They are all on the streets,” he continued. “I spent the day there on Sunday and 100 percent, other than the criminals that I saw preying on the homeless, 100 percent of the people in the streets were either major mental illness or drug addiction, 100[percent. I talked to dozens of people and they all told me the same thing. Everybody’s is on drugs — no surprise there.”

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Jon Dougherty

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