Alliance to pursue homeless lawsuit against county

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — After tentatively settling its lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights has signaled its intention to move forward with its case against Los Angeles County, the remaining defendant in a complaint demanding solutions to the homelessness crisis.

The terms of the proposed settlement with the Alliance announced April 1 ends the city’s part of the March 2020 suit against both the city and county of Los Angeles. Under the settlement — which still requires court approval — the city agreed to spend up to $3 billion over the next five years to develop as many as 16,000 beds or housing units for the homeless, enough to accommodate 60% of the city’s homeless population.

In a filing April 7 in Los Angeles federal court, Alliance attorney Elizabeth Mitchell said that the coalition of downtown residents, homeless individuals and property owners anticipate the second amended complaint against the county “will significantly streamline the case” if and when the court signs off on the city settlement.

City officials said the county must be responsible for providing services and housing for homeless individuals with serious mental illness, substance-use issues or chronic physical illnesses, since it has the medical and social-work facilities to do so — while the city does not.

The actual number of housing units and beds the city will be required to build under the settlement remains uncertain, pending the results of the recently conducted “point-in-time” countywide homeless count. But city officials estimate that meeting the terms of the settlement will require the addition of 14,000 to 16,000 beds, costing between $2.4 billion and $3 billion.

A large portion of those required units are believed to be already in the planning stages with funding from the voter-approved 2016 Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund homelessness solutions.

According to the most recent homeless count, conducted prior to the pandemic in 2020, the countywide homeless population was 66,433, a nearly 13% increase from the previous year. The city of Los Angeles homeless population was 36,165, up 14% from the prior year.

“In this ongoing battle against homelessness, the county will continue to use its resources to support people experiencing homelessness within the area of Los Angeles that is the subject of this lawsuit, while also maintaining our obligation to use our resources equitably to support people experiencing homelessness in the rest of the city of Los Angeles and in the remaining 87 cities and unincorporated areas,” the county said in a statement when the city settlement was announced.

In February, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered a series of mandatory settlement talks after city and county representatives indicated they had no sense of when or if they might strike a deal that would lead to an agreement. A few weeks ago, the county withdrew from the multiple hours of discussions.

Carter has referred several times to a “historic schism” between the city and county that had apparently stymied settlement efforts. The two entities were ostensibly supposed to come to a compromise on funding and other issues before a full agreement with the L.A. Alliance could be reached.

Mitchell told reporters that the county has “refused to participate in this settlement. We will not stop working to hold the county accountable. This crisis is too big for any one branch of government. The county is not getting out of its obligations.”

The lawsuit brought by the L.A. Alliance had been on hold almost since it was filed with the goal of forcing local government to “comprehensively” deal with the homelessness crisis downtown.

Settlement talks eventually expanded from the original lawsuit focus of downtown’s Skid Row area to the thousands of transients living under or next to the region’s freeways, then ultimately to the county’s entire homeless population.

Skip Miller, outside counsel for the county, has long argued that the county should not be held accountable for downtown because “the city has primary jurisdiction.”

Miller issued a statement on April 1 saying the lawsuit “has no merit with regard to the county.”

“It is between the plaintiffs and the city, and we’re glad they settled,” he said. “We intend to litigate and win this case. The county is more than doing its job and doing everything possible to address homelessness without stigmatizing it as a crime. Any assertion that the county has failed on this obligation is utterly baseless. Unlike the lawsuit, which focuses on four miles of downtown L.A., the county is obligated by law to use its resources equitably among all 88 cities and unincorporated areas within the 4,000 square miles of its jurisdiction.”