Judge orders L.A. to build shelter for Skid Row homeless within 180 days

Federal Judge David O. Carter today issued a 110-page order slamming L.A. city officials' inability to reign in the growth of the city's homeless population, noting encampments in nearly every neighborhood in the region.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to spend nearly $1bn getting people off the streets within the coming year, but the order puts his feet to the fire: Carter specified that the $1bn must be placed in escrow and a spending plan "accounted for and reported to the Court within seven days."

"All of the rhetoric, promises, plans, and budgeting cannot obscure the shameful reality of this crisis — that year after year, there are more homeless Angelenos, and year after year, more homeless Angelenos die on the streets," Carter wrote in granting a preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs last week.

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Los Angeles county is currently host to 66,400 homeless people, with 41,000 of those living within the city limits. Skid Row used to be the closest thing to home for most of these people, but in recent years, bridge camps, RVs, and battered shelters made of plywood, tarps, and cardboard have become a common sighting.

Carter's order demands that all women and children in Skid Row be given shelter within the next 90 days, and that every homeless person in the downtown area should have some kind of living accommodations within 180 days. Carter also demanded a thorough audit of all public funds spent on combatting homelessness over the past several years, including the 2016 measures to create 10,000 housing units over the next decade (though that project has been, at best, slow to start).

Mayor Garcetti says he has been briefed on the ruling, but hasn't read it in its entirety yet. He told reporters that he and the judge share the same sense of urgency, but declined to comment on Judge Carter's intentions, saying, "Putting a billion dollars in escrow that doesn't exist doesn't seem possible." Garcetti also voiced doubt about the proposed timeline, saying it was "unprecedented… not just for Los Angeles, but any place that I've ever seen with homelessness in America."

"This order is a vote of no-confidence in the mayor, the City Council and county officials," said Daniel Conway, policy adviser for the alliance.

Conway said he was struck by Carter's grand prose in the court filing, which quoted Abraham Lincoln and traced the history of homelessness back from slavery through decades of redlining, containment, eminent domain, exclusionary zoning and gentrification.

"Carter is able to put together a history of racist and discriminatory policies and connect them to the policy failures of today. It shows the culpability of the city and county of LA for decades. Now they have to make it right," Conway said Tuesday.

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Gary Blasi, professor emeritus at UCLA, said Carter's order contains, "a compelling description in all the ways that public policy has failed poor people and homeless people in particular."

"There's no doubt that in the short run, this will reduce the number of encampments on Skid Row and increase property values," Blasi said. "But in the long run I fear it could make things worse by serving as an excuse to turn to police to clear people off sidewalks."

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